They found Marian's body in the early morning, just before dawn. Chaos overtook the hotel on the news, but it was somehow muted by the lingering euphoria of the Revel. After all, nobody had reason to grieve. It was simply another death among a growing many.
Everything seemed so real and clear that morning, as though I’d just been dunked in a cold bath of water. I hadn't slept. I'd gone and seen the end of the festivities, and walked off as the others charged away in glorious confusion.
It was breakfast, and I sat alone, consuming spoonfuls of porridge (blech) with little to no vigor. At the high table, an energetic debate was raging between the higher-ups of the organization. Seeming like a new man, Lucius bounced about between Hiboshi Tatsama and Lord Voldemort, arguing feverishly. I couldn't help but smile a little at his vivacity, no matter how macabre the source. It had been a long time since I'd last seen him so…alive.
The chair scraped on the ground beside me, and I jolted upright to find Severus quietly seating himself.
"Nice job last night," he congratulated, a smug ghost of a smile on his pale features.
I let out a long breath of air. "Thanks," I said weakly. "I'm a little high-strung yet, though, in case you couldn't tell."
Severus pilfered some of my orange juice and ate a grape from the side of my plate. "Understandable," he said. "Do you want to go out for a walk where we can discuss things more in depth?"
Reclaiming my orange juice and downing the remainder, I stood. "Sure."
Severus got up as well, and we wound our way through the packed tables of exhausted Death Eaters. We were about to reach the door when a call from the high table summoned us back.
"Malfoy!" Lord Voldemort cried. "Don't shirk out of here! I want to congratulate you!"
I hurried over to the table, Severus waiting a few steps behind. I bowed before the Dark Lord and then looked to him expectantly.
He clapped me on the back, and spoke loudly to those at the table. "Ladies and gentlemen, young Master Malfoy was responsible for the positively wonderful sacrifice we had last night." There was a brief round of applause. Smiling thinly, Voldemort extended his hand for me to shake. My breath caught. This was a true honor. I calmly responded by extending my own hand and shaking in the traditional fashion: clasping hands around respective forearms, so dark marks (or the lack thereof) would be pressed together.
The was a slightly electrical shock at the contact, and I recoiled a bit to quickly. Afraid I had offended the Dark Lord, I looked up and prepared to apologize. Instead, I found he was now smiling in earnest. "Welcome to the club, Draco," he said quietly.
On my arm was a brand new Dark Mark, glossy and menacing on my still-pink skin.
Another round of applause rang out. My father stood and embraced me tightly, smiling just as widely as Voldemort was.
"I know you killed her," he whispered into my ear, and backed away.
My heart just about died. Oh good god.
"…And I'm quite impressed, Draco," Lucius finished, so the rest of the people at the table could hear. "It had to be done, and you did it well. I'm proud to be your father today."
"Thanks," I choked out, stunned and overjoyed, and backed away. I bumped up against Severus, who caught me and steadied me.
"Sev," I said, overwhelmed, "let's go for a walk."
The air was clean and cool, and I could smell no smoke as we slowly walked down the front steps of the hotel. We started down the road to the sea. I looked down at the Mark on my arm in awe as we went.
"I still can't believe it," I murmured. "In the same day, I kill the Lord's most trusted advisor, and win his favor."
"Stranger things have happened," Severus said with a wan smile. "Kings have died on coronations. Frogs have rained on small Muggle towns. Malfoys have left me alone."
"Psh," I said. "Liar. Last one's not true."
"It is!" Severus exclaimed. "Your mother, for instance. Your mother has never raised a hand for or against me."
I looked down to my feet. "About my mother," I said tentatively. My eyes traced idly along a set of small animal footprints in the sand. "You know…if anything ever goes wrong again, you can ask her for a hand."
Severus glanced at me suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
"I had a little visitor last night while I was paying a call to Madame Marian. Turns out this visitor had similar objectives to my own."
Severus nodded, looking flabbergasted but otherwise devoid of injury. "Interesting tastes, the Resistance has," he said quietly, eyebrows raised.
I laughed. "I don't think it's a matter of taste. It's not like they can set up booths at career fairs: 'Defect From the Dark Side TODAY!' You take what you can get, you know?"
"Oh, I know," Severus said, smirking.
I punched him in the arm. "What do you think it's going to be like?" I asked.
"The war. The future. All that jazz."
He paused. "Well, it depends on who wins."
"If the Resistance wins?"
"Life will go on as we know it."
"If my side wins?"
"No magical restrictions, no Mudbloods, no Muggles—a veritable free-for-all."
"…So why do you side with them and not us?"
"Because the obliteration of half the human race is not my choice," Severus said calmly. "In fact, no one alive on this planet, Muggle or wizard, has the right to decide who lives and who dies. Not Voldemort, not Dumbledore, not the Longbottoms, not the Potters, not the Lestranges. People are people. You can't just go and kill them because you think it's a good idea. Trust me, many have tried it in the past and failed."
I watched the paw prints diverge from the path up into the dunes. We stood on the beach, a hundred yards from the water, just watching the waves.
"Oh well," I said. "It doesn't matter today, so I don't want to argue about it." I laughed. "I mean, in the end, does it really matter who kills who? I mean, the war's going to happen. That's a given. And, the way you say it, no one who kills is right." I traced a nonsensical shape in the sand with my toe. "In this war, we will both have to kill. Maybe you'll have to kill me. Maybe I'll have to kill you. Maybe we'll decide to kill ourselves instead." I watch Severus's emotionless face. "It follows that no matter what, neither of us is going to be right."
Severus nodded slowly, still watching the ocean. "So when all is said and done, nobody loses and nobody wins."
"In conclusion: try not to cause mass destruction or die, because that doesn't work for anybody."
Severus snickered. "Simple, succinct and to-the-point. 'A' for favoritism, Malfoy."
A rather loud meow disturbed us, and I turned to find the source of the paw prints purring at my feat. Grinning, I bent down and picked Asmodeus up, ruffling his ears.
"The demon returns," Severus commented dryly. "I wondered where the little bastard had gotten himself to."
I put Asmodeus up on my shoulder, and watched the waves again. My cat batted at my ear, making a mild nuisance of himself. The sun was an orange-gold orb above the horizon. Soon, it would rise fully into the sky and removed the shadows from the hills.
"You know, it'll be dark again when we get back to the Manor," Severus mused, reaching over to give Asmodeus a scratch.
"I know," I said. Looking at him, I rolled my eyes. "Just shut up and enjoy the moment, would you?"
Severus smiled and very ineptly punched me in the arm.