Chapter 14

November 6, 1981, The Crystal Cave

The screams were louder than the thundering roar of the sea outside. I am not shaking with fear, Lucius Malfoy told himself. It's merely cold. Yes. It's autumn and North Sea is cold.

The fury of the Dark Lord had been terrifying to behold. Everything had fallen apart. Harry Potter was back in Hogwarts, Crouch Jr. was dead… All thanks to Snape and Black. At least his wife's cousin would no longer be a thorn in their side. Fenrir Greyback had seen to that.

Lucius wasn't sure how he felt about it. Sirius Black had been a blood traitor, true, and he had never liked him, even in Hogwarts. He was an arrogant, little piece of shit. But he had also been a pureblood. And Narcissa's cousin. Lucius wondered if she knew that he had been killed. And if she does, will she be glad? Or will she mourn him? Narcissa was nothing like her sister. She believed in the Dark Lord's cause, of course – all of them did – but cruelty was not in her nature. Lucius himself wasn't about to cry over Black's death. His head and neck still hurt from that Stunner back in Knockturn Alley. Still… The man was from a pure line and a noble House. He shouldn't have been murdered by a mere werewolf. That was it. Maybe Sirius Black did deserve to die for standing against the Dark Lord and allying himself with mudbloods and traitors. But even purebloods as prodigal as him deserved a better death than one at the hands of a creature that wasn't even human.

Another gurgling scream pierced the damp darkness of the cave. Well, Greyback is paying for it now.

The three of them had returned empty-handed and beaten to the hidden cave beneath the cliffs where the salty waves of North Sea crashed against ancient rocks. The Dark Lord had said that this place was secure, that nobody would find them there after they had left the Manor… and he had been right, as he always was. Rookwood, somehow still managing to slip undetected and spy for the Dark Lord inside the Ministry itself, claimed that the Aurors were searching everywhere for them, to no avail.

So the Dark Lord had decided that they were to move quickly. He wanted to kill Harry Potter. Lucius never dared to ask why. Perhaps he just desired to finish what he started on Hallowe'en. It mattered not. The Dark Lord had to get what he wanted and it was the Death Eaters' duty to oblige him. And so Lucius, thirsty for recognition, had hatched the whole plan. The Dark Lord had been certain that Dumbledore would come after him soon after Severus' betrayal on Hallowe'en. He meant to hide all of them here, in the cave by the sea, but it had been Lucius' idea to leave Narcissa and Draco behind in the conviction that Dumbledore would likely take them back to Hogwarts. That way his wife could be used as a means to allow them entry in Hogwarts. Impressed with Lucius' scheme, the Dark Lord had contacted Crouch Jr. and gave him his orders. Going in, taking a teacher's place, getting the baby and going back to Greyback's safehouse where me and Bella would take it back here. It was going to be so simple, such a triumph…

Instead somehow Severus had entangled himself into the mess, captured by the werewolf by mere chance, and with him came Sirius Black and their failure. How could I have foreseen it?!

And so when Lucius and Bellatrix returned to the cave late that night, dragging the bleeding werewolf with them, Lucius was certain that he was going to die. After all, the Dark Lord was notorious for his low tolerance of failures.

Even now, hours later, he remained unharmed. The same could not be said for the other two.

Bella had been blasted with the Cruciatus until she passed out. Lucius glanced at her, still crumpled on the rocks. Her husband and his brother never said a word in her defense, they had just stood there and watched impassively while she screamed and slithered under the Dark Lord's anger.

As to Greyback… Well, a part of Lucius was morbidly curious to know what was happening to him. Another, much wiser part, insisted that he'd be better off in ignorance. By rights the werewolf should be dead already. That curse that Severus hit him with was a nasty piece of work. The gash in his massive chest literally couldn't stop bleeding, resisting every healing spell that Lucius had tried on him back in Knockturn Alley while Bella was preparing a new portkey. How much blood does he have in his body? It seemed that Fenrir Greyback's beastly endurance would allow him to survive a little longer… but sooner or later he would have bled out. Apparently the Dark Lord can indeed hold off death itself.

The Dark Lord had taken the werewolf deeper into the cave, where none of them were allowed. Sometimes Lucius' curiosity gnawed at him and he wondered what was hidden into the black depths that lay beneath the rocks. There must be something. This place was not chosen by accident. The Dark Lord must keep something there, something hidden. Not that Lucius was about to snoop around. Defying the Dark Lord is not for me. Only he knew what secrets awaited in the dark. Well, he and Greyback now. Though I doubt the creature will be able to talk about it.

A gust of salty wind bore its cold fingers inside the cave, rustling the black cloaks and robes of the men huddled here, trapped between the bellowing sea and the stormy night sky. Lucius shivered again and looked around, nervous. Another scream came from the depths of the cave. Look at them, they pretend not to notice anything!

Old Nott was standing at the edge of the cliff, staring into the tall waves crowned with grey foam that crashed in the jagged basalt spires that surrounded the mouth of the cave. Dolohov and Rosier were talking quietly to each other in a dark corner. The Lestrange brothers were simply sitting next to the still unconscious Bella, gazes wandering into nothingness; unlike Lucius' sister-in-law, the two of them were usually quiet and reserved, preferring to keep to themselves. They liven up only when they're about to Crucio someone.

Lucius didn't fail to notice that all of them were not ignoring only Greyback's echoing shrieks. They're ignoring me too. I'm a dead man to them, he realized. He could almost taste the bile. It wasn't my fault, the Dark Lord must see that. How could I have predicted such interference?

The werewolf screamed again, louder than the last few times.

The echo was still bouncing faintly against the rocky walls of the cave when the Dark Lord emerged from the darkness. He was alone.

Lucius had to force his heart to calm itself. He drove a shaky hand through his long hair. Am I next? Maybe, if he was lucky, he would only be tortured for a little while. Despite the chill in the air, he could feel his palms and neck sweating.

The Dark Lord's gait was calm. He walked on the cold stones with the same ease he had had on the thick carpets inside Malfoy Manor. His red, reptilian eyes fixed Lucius and he smiled. He came closer. Lucius' eyes darted towards his master's sides. The arm he had lost on Hallowe'en had soon been replaced by a new one. In the gloom of the cave one could not see it clearly, but it was made of some shiny, dark metal that was somehow just as agile and flexible as flesh was. Though Lucius suspected that it was stronger as well, and there was no doubt that it was touched by old, fell magic.

"Lucius, my friend," the Dark Lord purred almost gently, "come have a word with me."

In a brief, maniacal flash of panic Lucius was afraid that his lips were glued together and he couldn't talk. He swallowed hard. "Yes, my lord," he croaked. "Of course."

The Dark Lord headed to the cave's entrance. Nott noticed them, bowed his head and retreated, leaving them to speak in private. Lucius stood next to the Dark Lord and stared down, to the angry watery abyss below. The autumn gales were wracking the North Sea and the waves thundered on, relentless. If he kills me here, they will never find my body.

"You failed me today, Lucius," the Dark Lord declared. Somehow his soft voice wasn't muffed by the roar of the sea.

"My lord, I…" Lucius started, hellbent to beg his way out of this whole mess. The Malfoys were proud folk. But no so proud as to deny themselves the opportunity to do what must be done to survive.

"Be silent, my slippery friend," the Dark Lord's dismissal sounded almost bored. "If I intended to kill you, I would have done so already."

Lucius fell on his knees. The rocks were hard but the discomfort was meaningless Dark Lord turned his pale face to him and smirked. "Thank you, my lord," Lucius murmured humbly, "Thank you. Please forgive me. I will not fail you again."

"No," the Dark Lord replied. "You won't. But I never said anything about forgiveness, Lucius."

"My lord?" he whimpered, his body tense and ready to be hit by the Cruciatus Curse at any moment.

"I nedded Harry Potter, Lucius. You had him in your grasp and let him slip away, along with that mudblood-lover Severus. I wonder, Lucius," the Dark Lord drawled, "I wonder… You were the one who brought Severus into the fold. Could it be that you're about as loyal as your friend?"

"No!" Lucius shrieked. All his riches, all the pureblood dignity forgotten. If he even begins to suspects you of disloyalty, you're dead! "No, my lord! I swear! I failed, yes, but it was a mistake, nothing more! I would never betray you!"

"Is that so, Lucius?"

"My lord, I would do anything, anything, to make amends for my failure!"

"How magnanimous of you, my friend," the Dark Lord sneered. "But so be it. I will give you another chance."

"My lord?"

The Dark Lord crossed his arms, the metal one over the real, and looked out to the sea.

"We must assume that Harry Potter is beyond our reach for now. Dumbledore knows I want the boy, and he'll throw everything he's got in protecting him. Even worse, he might manage to hide the babe and its disgusting whore of a mother away from me."

Lucius hesitated before he asked, "So what would you have us do, my lord?"

The Dark Lord did not answer immediately. "We cannot take Hogwarts by storm. But there are those who can. Those who could just force their way inside, while we must try and sneak in."

"I am ready to serve you, my lord. Just tell me how."

"Despite the abysmal job you did in Knockturn Alley, Lucius, we might be able to salvage this situation. Did you know that Greyback killed Sirius Black with Severus' wand?"

Lucius frowned. "My lord, what has that got to do wi…"

"Severus is now Dumbledore's favorite pet. The two of them are together, working against us. And it's unlikely that we could remove either of them forcefully. But maybe if we tried a different touch… The Wizarding World thirsts for our blood, Lucius. We are painted as villains instead of the idols we should be," he turned to Lucius, his red eyes gleaming in the night. "We could use this against them. I am convinced that Dumbledore is either keeping Severus' past standing with us a secret, or he's managed to hide his own connection to your friend." The Dark Lord laughed softly. "Regardless, imagine what would happen when the Ministry learns that the Headmaster of Hogwarts is consorting with the Death Eater who murdered Sirius Black, the hero."

Lucius' eyes widened. The potential this idea had was frightening. But how do we achieve that? No, how do I achieve that? He's telling me all of this for a reason. This is my chance to redeem myself. He wants me to do it.

"My lord," Lucius began carefully, "I am not sure how we could approach this. We have the wand, so we could probably make use of the Priori Incantatem… but the Ministry would not turn easily. Bagnold is a weakling, but she supports Dumbledore and a lot of power has passed in the hands of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I fear, my lord, that Crouch will not pay heed to us. His son's death… he will not rest until he's caught us, my lord."

"Crouch and Bagnold are insignificant, Lucius. We simply need a new Minister of Magic, one who will be more inclined to listen to wisdom," The Dark Lord's twisted smile sent chills down Lucius Malfoy's spine. "And you're the one who will make it happen."

Lucius simply stared up at the Dark Lord, his mouth slightly agape. Bloody hell… And how am I supposed to do that? He could probably make use of his fortune to buy off some of the members of the Wizengamot and then use the legislators and the bureaucracy to tear Millicent Bagnold down from the shadows, but such things took time. And he didn't need the Dark Lord to tell him out loud that for all the Malfoy gold in the world, time was a luxury Lucius could no longer afford.

He had no choice. There is no escape from this. I will either succeed or die.

Lucius bowed his head, still on his knees before his master. "Yes, my lord. As you wish."

"Yes, Lucius, just so," the Dark Lord gave him a dismissive gesture and made to step back into the cave. Then he turned and eyed Lucius. A stray beam of moonlight pierced the clouds and illuminated his pale face. His red eyes shone slyly. "And, Lucius, remember that I spared you my wrath tonight. Rest assured, if you fail me now, I will make sure that you will watch while the beautiful Narcissa and young Draco pay for your mistakes."