This is the last chapter and I hope that you will enjoy it. I have more Lucius torture in the works, so just keep an eye out for me.
Thank you all for sticking with me on this and for all your reviews, I look forward to writing for you again.
Another High Ministry Official Found Dead
Linus Sutcliffe, age 43, was found dead yesterday evening in his study at his North Dorking home. The Junior Minister of Education and former Auror has become yet another in a series of eight puzzling and gruesome suicides that have baffled investigators since the first week of August. In keeping with the tragic trend of self-poisonings, the deceased had apparently brewed and drank a pot of tea made from the leaves and flowers of white oleander.
The previous victims have eaten amanita mushrooms, ingested the whole fruit of strychnos nux vomica, self-administered a sodium hydroxide purge, guzzled lye, rolled naked in a pit of vipers, eaten kukui nuts "like walnuts' according to one investigator, and even have eaten the poison nematocyst-laden tentacles of the cubomedusa – also called the Australian Box Jelly-fish…
Lucius had been up here five times in the last week, watching the door from an alcove.
Each time he had turned around, gone back down to the dungeons and brooded.
Severus said nothing when he did this, but Lucius was deeply aware of time running out. A few days hence and the students would return to classes, including Lucius' own son and many of the children of Lucius' associates. Severus did not have to say anything about time being short, the time period for the 'cure' that could reasonably be expected for Lucius' supposed poisoning was fast approaching.
At least I look the part.
Lucius grimaced. Always very conscious of his appearance, he'd found himself avoiding mirrors lately. The few fleeting glimpses he'd had were of a wraith-thin, too pale man. Still, the physical aspect was nothing compared to the emotional one – which was Hell.
A Hell - that was to some extent - mitigated by Severus. The details of that week following the Dream were fuzzy, but Lucius knew that he had spent a good bit of time under Requietum. Sometimes he listened to his own thoughts, sorting through them as one might sort documents by type. Other times he looked at memories with an odd detachment that made him feel as if he were peering into someone else's pensieve. Severus sat with him often, or Dumbledore, worried that Lucius might try again to end his life.
Lucius considered. No. He did not want to die by his own hand. Calm and clear – if not steady – in mind, what Lucius wanted was…
Something he had no name to describe.
The urge to be back in the dungeons, back in a safe lair, took him and he turned for the narrow, winding stairs that would take him there.
Fawkes moved on his perch, trilling as he sensed someone in the passage and called his wizard's attention to it.
Albus Dumbledore sighed as he laid aside his quill - he no longer needed to scry for the identity of his reticent visitor. Lucius Malfoy was lurking in the corridor for the fifth time this week and probably about to bolt for the dungeons and Severus out of pure Slytherin reflex. It appeared that he was going to have to – very gently – force the issue.
With a gesture, the staircase screwed down and Albus went to it with some haste, catching Lucius just as he made a not-quite dart for the dungeon stairway.
"Lucius!" Albus smiled, "Lucius, I am very happy to see you! You're looking better. Are you quite well?"
It was no untruth. Lucius in the depths of his despair had been the very image of death. The man before him now was pale and heartrendingly thin, but the gaze was clear and focused. Lucius' movements, though reserved and cautious, were those of a well man.
"I... am." The eyes hooded from reflex, the words were as guarded as their speaker's expression.
"Please, come inside." Albus half-gestured, half-herded the reluctant man ahead of him on the staircase. "I was just about to send for tea; would you join me? I am happy to see you, here. The last time I saw you I was very concerned."
"I... remember. Somewhat."
Albus had seen him in a terrible state – and for a Slytherin, such naked weakness was a worse thing than some deaths. Lucius had been bent – as Severus had once been – upon attaining his own destruction. Unable to see any respite from his own mind, Lucius had sought death. It had taken much Requietus, much talking to Lucius as he lay in trance state to even make a start at repairs.
"Severus has been very concerned. He has spoken to me about you, more than once. I am glad to see you improved."
It took a gentle crowding to actually get Lucius into the office, the poor boy was as nervous as a cat in a room full of dogs.
"I... Severus has been... always... rather protective of me. He is... I… I am very fond of him." The last words were packed close together and hurried off Lucius' tongue, but no less sincere for the haste.
Albus continued to herd Lucius, bringing him to an alcove with a pair of deep wing chairs in front a fireplace, facing each other over a small table. "And he is very fond of you. Indeed, he cherishes you as he always has. These last weeks have been very difficult for him."
Lucius' voice was very quiet, "I know. That is, to a great extent, my doing." He regarded the wing chair as if it might bite him. "I... regret the all of the pain that I have caused him."
"Perhaps. But that matters little, now. What matters is that you are improved, and he can be relieved. Was it he that sent you here, to me?" Albus spoke to the table, "Tea, please, for two."
The tea and cakes materialized on the table. Lucius' gaze flickered to the cakes, the Malfoy sweet-tooth was legendary – this might be enough to tempt the man into sitting down.
"Severus suggested that I might talk with you," Lucius sat stiffly on the edge of the chair, "over some... things."
"Anything at all. Had you anything in particular you wished to discuss?" While he had only the greatest sympathy for the blond man, he could not make this last step for him. This has to come from Lucius, and him alone. "Lemon? Sugar? Cream?"
Albus passed the cup. "You know, Severus is dear to me. I love him as I would my own son. You are always welcome here, and anything you may require you shall have, if it is within my capacity to give."
"He regards you well." Lucius studied the lemon floating in his cup. "We are not very expressive with... others, we of Slytherin. I am… grateful… for your hospitality, as well. I have done nothing to deserve it, yet you have given it. Thank you."
"I wonder about that, Lucius, I think that Severus saw something in you that was very deserving indeed, and worked very hard to restore it." Even when Albus had doubts, Severus had never wavered in that respect. "Have you given any thought to where you will go from here?"
"No. None. Severus snaps at me about spoon-feeding and then reads aloud from 'Potions Quarterly." There was a long pause before Lucius spoke again. "I worry that he sees something that is not there. I... seduced him when he was very young and that may alter his perceptions."
And hadn't Albus been furious when he'd heard about that. Twelve! The boy had been barely pubescent! Then again, Lucius had only been fourteen when his own somewhat unwilling initiation into the pleasures of the flesh had taken place. In Lucius' mind, the fact that he had seduced Severus – manipulated the boy into being a willing participant – had made it all right. The only thing that saved Lucius from a levinbolt was the fact that there was some genuine feeling other than lust involved – even if the primary expression of those emotions was done physically – and that feeling had continued.
"I get no sense that his feelings for you have changed over the years, Lucius. If anything, he has been determined, even partisan, on your behalf. He makes no attempts to excuse you from responsibility for your actions, but believes that you were misled."
"I... hardly know what to think anymore. Everything I believed was wrong. I cannot regret anything I have done with Severus, other than to cause him such horrible grief and handing him to Riddle. I believed. And what I believed was a lie."
Lucius was at the moment, a lost man. The hollow tone of the words, the emptiness of expression all told Albus that the man of absolute faith had nothing left in which to believe. It was also telling that Lucius referred to Voldemort by his given name, now, instead by any title of respect. Voldemort, the Dark Lord, had one less person who feared to speak his true name.
"Ah, if only your power were so absolute. I think Severus would be horrified at your sense of responsibility for his decisions." Severus would be indignant, and vocally so. The man was almost pathologically withdrawn, so anything that could send him out of his shell was something of which to take note. "You were – and are - most important to him, it is true, but his decisions were his own and he made them as you made yours. What happened after that was terribly unfortunate for all. It is hard not to feel guilty when things go so horribly wrong, but there is an opportunity here for you as well as for Severus."
"For Evan and Charles, it was fatal. I was responsible..."
This was something different, Albus felt his eyebrows ascend into his hairline. "You were responsible? You handed them to Voldemort, kicking and screaming, totally against their will?"
Softly, "I was supposed to look out for them."
The root of the problem, here. Severus had been right; those boys had become a responsibility that Lucius had never laid aside. "Oh, Lucius, if only it were possible to look out for another and have their best interests totally in your hands! But I do not believe that you willingly handed them over to their deaths. That is not the story I have heard. Why is your story so different?"
"I... they looked up to me. We all took the Mark together, and I..." Lucius closed his eyes, his words laced with a profound grief. "Riddle wanted two to undertake a mission that was actually a planned martyrdom, and I handed him Evan and Charles. I didn't know, but that does not excuse the fact that I..."
That I recommended Evan over Severus. Albus could all but hear it.
"Of course it is not an excuse, Lucius. There is no excuse, but this terrible burden of guilt will paralyze you unless you can find a way through it to see a new direction. That is what Severus has been trying to do for you, these last weeks - to help you see that there is more left of you than simply a terrible past. Can you tell me that Severus has failed in his task?"
Lucius rejected that violently. "NO! But how can I ever shut my eyes again, and not see what I have done! How can I look at myself and ever see anything but…"
"It is also quite possible that you will, in time, use your eyes to see the person who still is, and to see the one who thinks the world of you. It is possible, too, to allow your mind to see the true monster as the one who betrayed you both."
"Severus says that he sometimes hates you for keeping him sane, and he was an innocent compared to what I have done. If Riddle is the monster, what does that make of me?"
"It makes you simply one more man who allowed himself to be horribly misled. You are not the first, nor will you be the last. Your real burden is to take the realization and do something with it. Something that will be good for you, and for him, and for them - to show that you still think of them and hold their memories important. To show Severus that they are still important to you."
They sat in silence for a time, Lucius' gaze on his tea and face utterly still as he let himself consider new possibilities. Albus sat back, waiting. Haste, forcing events, could cause him to make a mistake with this one – and for the sake of them all he could not afford to make even the slightest.
"Can you tell me, when Charles first came to you, what he said? Severus said that was your tale to tell."
Albus sighed, it pained him deeply that he had not been able to prevent the deaths of Charles Wilkes and Evan Rosier. He had held such hopes when Charles had first approached him that he would be able to bring them back. The events that led to their alienation were painful to Albus, in part because his own actions had driven the Slytherins into a state of mind that led them to the deep distrust of others.
"Voldemort's service had become a great burden to those young men. They felt, already, that what they were being asked to do was simply not conscionable." Charles had not given details as to their research, but his face and eyes had been deeply shadowed. "They had gone to him seeking knowledge, seeking education, and yes, seeking approval, and had received them all at a terrible price. However, Charles never spoke of you, and never named you. It was not you that Charles blamed, but themselves, for choosing such a terrible path and paying such a terrible price."
"And Evan and Severus? How said they?" Lucius' voice was barely above a whisper, his shoulders tight.
"I had no chance to speak with Evan, and Severus came to me, as you know, only after Evan's death. Severus spoke of you only with regret that you seemed so far beyond his reach when he wanted so much for you to come to him." Albus knew that Lucius would have preferred to hear that Severus had cursed him – and Severus had, much later, only to retract it and curse Lucius again, doing the work of grief and healing. "Severus did not know what your situation was, or your feelings. He knew only that he felt you were lost to him - and that in his opinion Voldemort's ultimate revenge had been against you. That is why he has worked, these past years, to try to find a way to point this out to you. It has been a difficult task for him." He then added with the utmost gentleness, "It is no sin to love another to the point of madness. The sin comes when the loved one takes that love and twists it to his own ends."
Elbows resting on knees, he buried his face in his hands. "I did that, and more. I would have done anything to have him with me, and instead I nearly killed him. I love... have always loved Severus." Lucius raised his head and looked for the first time into Albus gaze. "What he is doing, especially now could well get him killed in a way that would make Evan's death look like a stroll in the garden."
Still the concern, and the love, even after all the pain of the last weeks. Severus had been right, there was something to save and revive.
"Yes, it could. And Severus is well aware of this - but this is also his choice, and he makes it because he feels that he can, perhaps, bring good from what he does. He has, finally, come to terms with not being able to bring Evan back." And that coming to terms had taken years and years. "But he has always hoped that there would be a way to bring you back to yourself, if not to him and his love, rather than Voldemort's. I assure you, Lucius, if I felt it were vengeance that motivated Severus, he would never set foot again in Voldemort's presence. That desire for vengeance would doom him."
"Volde... Riddle is a jealous master. More jealous than the Abrahamic god, that one."
Lucius was quiet for a very long time and Albus waited with the patience that only a century and a half of life could bring. He could see the tension winding Lucius' shoulders tighter and tighter until Albus' head began to ache in sympathy.
"There are many in his service who do not have the Mark." The words came out on a shaky breath and for a moment, Lucius looked as if he expected to be struck dead.
Albus simply nodded once, waiting, knowing that this would be painful for Lucius to say and for himself to hear.
When no lighting bolt came to blast him where he sat, Lucius spoke again. "Not many you might suspect. Not all Slytherin - though all are purebloods."
Another nod. Lucius had to do this on his own, Albus could not coerce or encourage him, only reassure and support.
"Pettigrew was not given the mark until he gave the Potters to Riddle. Severus tells me he had something to do with trying to hide them. In a way, he blames himself for their deaths. He did not know Pettigrew was recruited." Lucius stared hard at the spot on the carpet. "Sirius Black," he spat the name, "is innocent of the Potter's betrayal and of their murders. He was never a Death Eater, he was never even approached – it was Peter Pettigrew who sought us out." A pause and a defiant look, "I still believe with my whole heart that he intended to murder Severus, and nothing short of a questioning under Veritaserum will ever convince me otherwise."
"I know that Severus will never totally forgive himself for what he feels are his 'crimes' – but I do as much as I can to convince him otherwise. As for the matter of Sirius Black, your words will clear him of that particular crime."
Yes, there was something worth saving when Lucius could bring himself to clear the name of a man he hated. They sat in silence again, Albus letting the blond Slytherin feel his way in this strange new world.
"There are... many others. Powerful others." Lucius faltered, and fell silent, then, "First this; I want your word that you will protect Draco and Narcissa. After your word, which Severus accepts as Divine Writ, I will tell you. I love them, and would not want to see them take the brunt of revenge against me."
"You would have my word, Lucius? On what? That your wife and son will be protected, you need have no fears at all. They will be welcome to everything that I can give them. I would extend the same offer to you, whether you choose to talk to me at this time or not." Albus felt a deep sadness, it was a cynical belief that everything offered came with a hook, and Lucius had never seen anything in his life to let him believe any other way. He had never let himself see until now. "As you said, that Severus does trust my word; I would like you to come to trust it as well."
Lucius' head jerked up, eyes wide and blood draining from his face.
"Lucius? Are you quite all right? Lucius?" For a moment Albus was afraid that the man would faint dead away on his office floor.
"Severus said you would protect them but I couldn't see..." Lucius' voice shook with emotion, "I have been your enemy, worked for your disgrace, for the downfall of everything you espouse and believe. Why? Why would you protect them for nothing?"
"Why not? As I said before, Lucius, it is as simple as that. They are valuable because they are who they are. As are you."
With a deep breath that was almost a sob, Lucius closed his eyes and began to speak. "The Aurors have been infiltrated. I know of seven. - Littlebrook, Scully, Moran, Beauchamp, Burns, Smythe-Holly, and Goode. Severus said he... took care of the one that did for Evan and Charles. I did not know of him, he did not have the Mark."
"Yes, Lucius. I hear you." Another one brought home. Another soul that would come to know light.
"In Fudge's cabinet..."
The quill on Albus' desk wrote busily. It was both better and worse than he had thought, but with this, they have a chance to stop a great deal of harm from ever coming to be. Still, he is concerned, Lucius' face is still very pale, but it is as if each name, each detail given of the workings of the top echelon of Voldemort's organization takes with it some of the terrible tension, eases an atom of the load of guilt that Lucius bears for his actions. It goes on for hours, Lucius' voice and the scratching of quill on parchment is unbroken. Later, Albus will ask for details on this or that, but for now, he simply lets Lucius continue to speak as he will.
Finally, Lucius was limp and silent in his chair, eyes closed and drained.
"I understand. Anything else?" He put a hand on Lucius' shoulder, judging the contact finely. The other man was too proud to accept much comfort yet.
Lucius opened his eyes and sighed, "You are hated - deeply - by Riddle, though he gives no reason for the grudge. More than to kill the Potter boy, more than his own pureblood army, he wants you dead and Hogwarts to be his. He speaks of it with a level of obsession that is... Severus compared it to a Muggle story of revenge and madness." Lucius frowned, "It was about a ship's captain and a white whale? An American wrote it – Neville Herman?"
"Ah. I think I am flattered, being compared to Moby Dick." Severus had apparently been sampling Muggle literature a little more often than he'd let on. "Ehm, no, it is Herman Melville, I believe . . . and yes, I am aware of his absolute hatred for me, and it is not difficult to guess his intentions with regard to the school. Lucius -- what does Voldemort know of you, of your 'illness?' "
"We were summoned and neither Severus or I came, so Riddle sent the Rat - Pettigrew." Lucius sighed again but smiled, "Severus cannot lie very well at all, but he can brew a good tale out of whole truth."
"Yes, he can. It makes for interesting conversations, sometimes, that ability of his. " And aggravating ones, when Severus was being stubborn about something. "But my question is, Lucius, does Voldemort know that your feelings toward him have… evolved?"
"I do not think so, but it is very difficult to tell. He is... changed from who he once was. It appears he is questioning the inner circle about my supposed poisoning, and finding out some things that he would rather not. I look as if I have been very ill and as long as Severus can keep stretching that truth, it will hold. There was a considering pause, "You will want to see to your wardstones. Pettigrew should not have been able to get by them undetected."
Albus gave a grave nod, "I will see to it immediately." Now to see if Lucius would be willing, "You could provide us all with a very great service if you were willing to stand at Severus' side, before Voldemort."
Lucius was silent for so long that Albus felt a ripple of uncertainly.
"He trusts few of us, and Severus is high on the list for… having his loyalty tested." Lucius gave Albus a keen look. "He has kept you informed of Riddle's methods? Or is he brewing that, as well? I do what I can for him. I have a small talent at healing."
"I trust that he has not been. I would have to be stern with him were he to attempt to obfuscate on that score." Still, it might do to have a little talk with Severus, and possibly a long talk with Poppy as well. "And you are trusted still, where Severus is not? You are certain of this? To what extent?"
"I am, but only so far. Tending me in my illness will raise Severus in Riddle's regard and I can shield him better for that. I do not think that he will have to endure Cruciatus again after this, but beyond that I cannot say. I would keep him safely away, if I could, but that might put him in even more danger than he is already."
"That shield matters greatly." And he was going to have that talk with Severus. Cruciatus had some long-term effects if not properly treated. "This healing skill you have -- does this give you time alone with Voldemort?"
"He is never alone, there are always three of us with him at minimum. I have not used this skill around him, for my own reasons."
"I see." What those reasons were, Albus could wait to find out. "But if he were to tell you of any threat to this school, or the people within it, you could report this to me? Might he talk of this, in your presence?"
"He would - and he has - but his plans all start with you being dead. As you are quite obviously not dead..." Lucius shrugged.
"Yes, but has he anything particular in mind? It would be helpful to know. But we must tread carefully here, or he will soon have you on the list of those whose loyalty is in question."
"Riddle favors assassination, but he is not picky about methods. The only time he goes personally into a fight is when he is making a point or is certain that he can win. He might well order Severus to kill you in order to prove his loyalty - or might have before my supposed illness."
It was sobering to think that Voldemort might throw away a brilliant mind just to make a point. Sobering, yes, but not at all surprising.
"That would destroy Severus, figuratively as well as literally, but I can assure you that I am not without protection. For now, I will take your advice and strengthen the school's defenses." With utmost directness, Albus made an offer. "If you would be willing to stand before Voldemort with both eyes and ears wide open, all of us would be very much in your debt. And have an ear for anything he should slip to you about Severus, as well. I do not wish him harmed in any way for what he does, and if I am concerned I will pull him to safety instantly."
"I will inform you. I would be here very often, were Severus and I to renew our… former habits." Lucius shook his head, an expression of baffled amazement on his handsome face. "I still can't understand how he can forgive me. I just don't understand, but he does."
"I will be in your debt for what you may discover. I will look forward to working with you in this, and your presence at this school - in whatever function - will be always welcome." He gently squeezed the man's shoulder, "Lucius, you do not need to understand it - you simply have to accept it."
"I will speak with him, about many things." Lucius shook his head, rising to go, "About things that should have been, and of those that might yet be."
Albus smiled warmly and walked him to the door, "Speak with him, yes. I think you will find a rare depth of feeling in him, and a strength to add to your own. Please, come see me when you wish, this office will always be open to you."
There was a glimmer in those silver eyes. Something was taking root, finding something there to nourish it, and preparing to grow.
"I… will likely see you soon. Good night, Headmaster."
"Good night, Lucius."
The Mark burned black and the summoned came in answer to it. New bodies filled the former gaps in the Inner Circle, yet two spaces remained empty.
It had been over two months, and the Dark Lord's patience was wearing thin. If the two did not come tonight…
There was a single loud popping noise and two forms clad in black robes and cloaks, faces concealed by featureless silvery masks appeared.
One wobbled precariously, then was steadied by the other.
"Say 'I told you so…' "
"No need. You said it for me."
The original members of the Inner Circle chuckled at the tart exchange even as they breathed silent prayers of thanks to whatever gods might listen.
"Lucius. Severus." The ghastly thing that could no longer be called a man stirred, gesturing them to him with deadman-white fingers. "It has been a long time since you have been among us. Are you restored to health, Lucius?"
One figure removed its mask, and the gaunt face of Lucius Malfoy peered from the depths of the cowl. The Circle stood silent in shock. It appeared that Pettigrew had spoken the truth – probably for the first time in his life. The only thing Lucius needed was a scythe over one shoulder and he'd look like Thanatos Himself.
"I am, my Lord."
Severus, still masked, coughed as if he begged to differ.
"And you, Severus?" The question was edged with menace. Of all of them, Severus had been the one to feel most often their Lord's wrath – he was the example, the scapegoat.
Severus drew back his cowl and removed his mask to show a face as drawn as Lucius'.
"As patients go, he's a prick, my Lord."
"And you have all the charming bedside manner of a Hairy MacBoon, Severus," came Lucius' retort.
The thing that was no longer a man smiled, coming to stand between the two men and lead them with his thin arms around their shoulders. "You are both indeed restored. Now come, much has happened in your regrettable absences…"
Lucius stood beside Severus in the Circle. The new order of things had Lucius at Riddle's right hand, with Severus as second in power – and very obviously with Lucius.
As if a galleon-sized purple love-bite on the neck could mean anything else.
True to his word, Dumbledore had moved to protect Narcissa and Draco. Draco was now attending Beauxbatons on the pretext of searching for a bride – one to whom he was not related. Draco for his part was not objecting. Narcissa was in also in France, ostensibly visiting with some distant cousins and standing by to handle marriage negotiations. She and Severus had a long talk prior to her departure, ending with Narcissa hugging him fiercely. Lucius again counted himself a lucky man to have such a good wife.
Lucius felt calm as he had not, he realized, for many years. Dumbledore, true to his word, kept his office door open and Lucius availed himself of it many times. The nightmares still came, the doubts, and the blasts of debilitating fear with them – but he had an anchor in Severus who had sailed this course before him.
Severus - his lover and his beloved - who had labored for years for the chance to free Lucius from his own self-delusion. They had talked of things that should have been and things that might yet be – and had reached agreement. If to love and be loved in return was a great gift, then the loyalty Severus had shown was a treasure past all earthly price.
Yet, Lucius thought that perhaps the greatest gift Severus could have given him was not love or freedom or truth - but the way he gave Lucius to attain them for himself.
Riddle moved, bringing Lucius' attention back into focus, "Now, there are many who set themselves – foolishly – against us…"
He spoke and Lucius listened, nodding, as he stored it all away for later. This would be his penance and his penitence, and for the salvation already given, he undertook them gladly.
Author's note: Once again, thanks to Vardya for her channeling of Albus Dumbledore.