WARNING: This fic is about to get real. And by that I mean that it's about to earn it's rating, because the war is here. I will never move completely away from the love and sweetness of the family dynamic that has been the centerpiece of the story thus far, but from here on out there's also going to be a certain amount of darkness that you haven't seen here before.

Chapter 38

Lucius managed to land on his feet before he twisted to the side and vomited the entire contents of his stomach onto his wife's previously pristine floor. He felt her approaching and held one arm out, stopping her progress.


He tore at the mask which he still wore, throwing it across the room and then nearly ripped his Death Eater robes off of his body. How had he ever considered these to be honorable trappings? He couldn't bear for Narcissa to touch him at the moment.

He pulled out his wand to clean up the mess, but his hand was shaking.

"Stop, my love," Narcissa ordered, "you're exhausted, I'll do it."

He was ashamed- that he needed her help for something so simple, and for the reason that he needed her help in the first place. However, he knew that he was lucky not to have splinched himself just getting home and so he lowered his wand.

"Go sit down," she continued.

He carefully made his way out of the room, the tremors made it difficult for him to hold himself upright and walk at the same time. He probably shouldn't have risked apparition after that many rounds of the cruciatus- he was no longer used to the Dark Lord's preferred brand of punishment- but there hadn't been a floo available and he refused to stay anywhere near the newly re-born thing whom he had once been convinced was one of the greatest wizards to have ever lived, and that snake.

Oh that snake.

He shuddered again, but this time it didn't have anything to do with the after effects of a curse.

A few minutes later Narcissa followed him into the main sitting room- he hadn't had the energy to make it to their wing- and he wasn't sure he'd ever felt so helpless in his life as he watched her arrange a healing kit on the side table, her face carefully blank. She handed him two potions, the first was the best thing they for ameliorating cruciatus exposure- there was a reason that curse was classed as unforgivable- and the second was a strong pain potion.

They'd prepared as best they could for this night, knowing it was coming as Lucius' mark had gotten darker and darker for months. Narcissa was the superior potioneer between the two of them. Actually, she was just a superior potioneer in general. And so she had been the one to build their stock. But it had been difficult to watch her put on the stoic mask she usually only used in public, shut herself in their lab, and brew the items that might be necessary in the near future to simply keep him alive.

However, he figured his time was better spent getting House business in order. Including finishing preparations for several boltholes for his family spread all over the world, and sharpening his fighting skills with Black. And he kicked his horcrux research into overdrive, because finding and destroying them was the only way to end this.

And now that he'd seen what had become of a once brilliant wizard and charismatic leader, he knew he'd made the right decision. The Dark Lord had always been evil, but now he was also unstable, which made him far more dangerous than he had been before. It was going to take every bit of Lucius' intelligence and guile to stay alive. Remaining unscathed might be too much to hope for.

"Do you have any other injuries or is it all cruciatus related?" She asked.

He just shook his head and she moved away from healing supplies and sat down gently beside him, but was careful not to touch him and waited until he'd downed the potions before asking: "So he's-"

"He's back," Lucius answered her unfinished question. "And this time, I think he might literally not be human, Cissa."

Her mouth dropped open. "I- I suppose that's understandable, he lost his human body, anything he returned in would have to be some kind of construct."

Lucius just nodded, they'd never discussed it, it was too disturbing, but he'd assumed they'd had similar thoughts on the matter. But it was one thing to theorize and completely different to actually witness. "He doesn't have a nose. His eyes are red. He's- he appears to be part snake. I think he used his familiar in the ritual." He shuddered again at the thought of that creature.

"And from the state you're in, I take it that it wasn't a happy reunion?"

He snorted. "Pettigrew was there, has been with him for months, apparently. And lets just say that our Lord was less than pleased to find out his most faithful follower is a wizard of so little calibre. He is not ignorant of our abilities and resources, and he knows that if Pettigrew was capable of finding him, many of the rest of us could have as well- had we been so inclined. Also, the rat has kept him very well informed and was all to happy- I'm certain- to inform him of our part in securing Black's freedom."

She nodded but didn't comment, he was walking proof of the results of the Dark Lord's displeasure at the moment. "Speaking of, should I call Sirius?" She asked eventually. "Do we need to meet to discuss what to do next? And save you from having to tell the story twice."

"Hold on Cissa, there's more." He had to confess this to Narcissa first, before he faced Black, and Merlin help him, his children.

She moved slowly to give him fair notice, but wouldn't allow him to shy away when she took his hand. She must have sensed how bad it was, he gripped her gratefully.

"The Longbottom boy is dead."

She gasped. "Are you certain?" She asked after a long pause.

"Yes, he was dead when I got there, there was nothing I could do, it appeared that his blood was yet another ingredient," he winced at the term, "in the ritual used to revive the Dark Lord."

She just bowed her head and took several long breaths, then she took out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes.

He hoped she wouldn't ask for more information, that he wouldn't have to explain that when he'd first spotted the body he thought the boy looked vaguely familiar, but hadn't been certain until the Dark Lord began to mutilate the body. About how he had mocked a dead child over his supposed triumph, because he'd been so easily taken from his own home, and then bragging that this was his vengeance on the son of the people responsible for some of his most loyal followers being imprisoned.

And Lucius really didn't want to have to admit that he'd been given the honor of participating in place of his sister in law, Bellatrix, who was 'unavailable' at the moment. Narcissa would only blame herself for that.

But the worst part of it was that while- to his shame- Lucius had seen dead children even younger than the Longbottom boy, had seen many bodies mutilated, and he was certain this wouldn't be the last time; this boy was different. He had been the same age as his son, a friend of Hermione's, and had shared a dorm with the Potter boy. Lucius was certain, in fact, that he'd been a replacement for Potter within the ritual when Potter had proved too difficult to capture, which added a whole new layer of horror to it all.

He wasn't sure that he could expect- or even hope- that they would forgive him.

"Of course there was nothing you could do," she soothed.

They just sat there for a long time, she quietly crying and he trying not to panic. It was all well and good to plan for war, but now that it had come he wasn't sure he had to strength to survive it again.

It had been one thing when he'd actually believed in the cause, even if he often disagreed with the Dark Lord's methods, but now- he'd see Hermione's face on every victim. Every muggle house raided could be the Grangers. His son could be discovered to love a muggleborn and their entire family made an example of. Everybody he loved could come to see him as a monster.

He couldn't stop thinking of these worst case scenarios. He had too much to lose and he wasn't sure how he was going to make it through without giving himself away.

He had accidentally allowed his occlumency shields to fall for a brief time tonight when his fear had overcome him. If the Dark Lord had chosen to take even the smallest peek inside his mind during that time his life would have been forfeit. They were going to have to come up with some kind of system so that Narcissa would know if he was killed. So that she would know to run. Because while he feared for himself, he was much more afraid for those who he would leave behind, which led to another worry: what else had they not considered?

"That can't be a coincidence, can it?" Narcissa asked, startling him out of his thoughts. "That it was the Longbottom boy- Neville," she clarified, voice tripping over his given name. "He was a fourth year Gryffindor along with Harry. Both of their parents were members of the Order of the Phoenix, both families attacked within days of each other, both of their lives irrevocably changed by the Dark Lord..." she trailed off and Lucius knew she was thinking of Bellatrix.

Something niggled at the back of Lucius' mind: the prophecy. He'd been thinking of one boy as a mere stand-in for the other, but what if they were truly linked in the Dark Lord's mind? Prophecies tended to be so vague. What if it could have applied to either child and the Dark Lord was hedging his bets- doing his best to get rid of them both? He put that away to think on later.

"I don't think that it is," he told her. "I think that Crouch was sent to infiltrate Hogwarts and bring Potter to him when the time was right. I think he manipulated the tournament for that reason."

"But why?" She bit her lip and he could tell she was trying to get it all straight in her mind. "It just seems so convoluted. He was inside Hogwarts for two full months, surely he could have found a way to lure Harry outside of the wards and portkey him to the Dark Lord in that time. Why draw attention to the fact that something was amiss and putting everybody on alert by entering him into the tournament?"

"Well the Dark Lord isn't completely rational, and I seriously doubt Crouch was either after what he went through, and for the most part Pettigrew is an idiot who will go along with whatever the smarter more powerful people in the room think. It would not be unlike the Dark Lord to want to make a production of things, to have Potter taken from under Dumbledore's nose to demonstrate that he couldn't even keep his golden boy safe within his own school. And the tournament was certainly a way to be flashy about things. Also, I suspect that there is a timing element at play here, whatever ritual he used would almost certainly have to be the kind that requires months of preparation. Most likely it simply wasn't ready this autumn."

Narcissa nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense." She took a deep breath. "So we'll wait to alert Sirius in the morning?"

"Yes, let them have one more peaceful night, there's nothing to be done immediately."

"Okay then. Are you feeling better? The tremors seem to have subsided."

"Yes," he sighed. "But I'm going to be quite sore in the morning." It was a small price, he almost hated to mention it.

"I'll get you a muscle relaxant draught to take first thing, and you should have a bath now." She stood up and extended her hand to him. "I'm tempted to send Jema to fetch the Grangers, it would bring me peace of mind to have both of the children under our roof tonight, but that would be selfish, wouldn't it? I should let them have one more night of peace as well."

He stood up and took her into his arms. "Additionally, I do not believe that I have the fortitude to explain this to them tonight."

She nodded, "I understand."

"Thank you," he murmured as she settled herself against his chest.

"Whatever for?"

"For still being here, for not looking at me like I'm a monster."

"I know you better than that."

He held her tight and breathed her in until his aching body began to protest. "Now, how about that bath? Will you join me, I'm not sure I could let you go right now?"

"Whatever you need."

He wondered if she'd ever truly understand how much he needed her.


Hermione went running from the room the next morning when Lucius informed her that her friend was dead. Draco immediately ran after her and the Grangers had a brief hushed, but intense conversation, and Lucius gathered that they were arguing over whether they too should go after her. Or perhaps they were debating if they should grab their daughter and get as far away from him as possible.

He wouldn't have blamed them either way. In fact, a large part of him wanted to beg them to take Draco and Hermione and run- if they had magical back up he would have done just that. But they ultimately stayed seated.

Narcissa sat quietly at his side clutching his hand, but he knew it was going against her every instinct not to follow them. Sirius sat silently with his head in his hands and Harry just stared off into space.

It was twenty minutes before they returned, Draco's arm around Hermione's waist; he was basically holding her up. Lucius was shocked when, instead of continuing on to the loveseat where they'd been seated together before, they stopped in front of himself and Narcissa. Hermione bent at the waist and wrapped her arms around his neck. He was so startled it took him a moment to return her embrace.

"I'm so glad that you're home safe," she whispered to him.

"Oh you sweet girl," Narcissa cried, clearly overhearing her words.

"Thank you," he murmured.

She gave him a final squeeze and stood back up. Draco gave him a simple nod over her shoulder that said more than any words could. Then he took his betrothed's hand and led her across the room.

"What now?" Sirius finally broke the silence. "We've been waiting for this, we knew it was coming, but now that it has, I feel like I have no idea where to go from here."

"You should all get away from me," Harry said suddenly.

"Excuse me?" Sirius asked, sounding the oddest amalgamation of the dangerous Black who had broken out of Azkaban and the caring parent Lucius knew he could be.

The boy didn't look up. "I'm not as smart as Hermione or Draco, but I know what's right in front of my face, and I know that he's after me. Just being around me puts you in danger. You should all get as far away from me as possible."

Lucius said nothing, he fully expected Sirius to object and he didn't intend to interfere.

So he nearly jumped in his seat when it was Hermione who yelled: "Shut up," sounding angrier than he'd ever heard her.

Harry's head swiveled to look at her.

"What?" She challenged. "You're being stupid, would you rather I say that? Okay, here goes: you're being stupid, stop it."

Potter huffed petulantly. "Neville died for me, Hermione, how can you…"

"Shut up! He did no such thing!"

"If it wasn't for me…"

"If it wasn't for you it would still have been Neville...or maybe somebody else. The Dark Lord is evil and crazy Harry, and you're not the only one he's after! None of this is your fault!"

"That's easy for you to say, you're not-"

"Not what?" She challenged.

He was silent and Lucius could see him gathering him courage. "You're not in his line of fire, not if you weren't my friend."

She laughed, but Lucius realized that it was not a sound he ever wanted to hear again. "Because he's suddenly going to embrace muggleborns? Accept the idea of Draco and I together?"

Potter set his chin defiantly. "It's not the same thing."

"Is it not? I should take comfort in the idea that he only wants be dead for what I am and who loves me rather than who I am specifically?"

Potter was silent.

"And what are you going to do to solve this unfortunate problem of your continued survival? Knowing you, you've got this noble idea that you could just go seek him out. How, Harry? Take out an ad in the Prophet? And then stand in front of him and let him kill you? Not only would that be an utter waste of the life your parents gave theirs to protect, but it would be futile. You think he would stop at your death?"

"That's not fair Hermione, to bring my parents into this. He's after me."

"Maybe. But he's not only after you."

"He tried to-"

Hermione actually snarled and rose half way from her seat before Draco pulled her back down. "Stop it Harry!" She demanded. "You're no good to any of us as a martyr. If you don't feel like sticking around to train with me and Draco just cut the dramatics and go throw yourself into a volcano or something. Neville is dead, stop pretending it's all about you."

"But it's-"

"What part of shut up, don't you understand," she shrieked, Draco started to looked truly concerned and Lucius quickly understood why as the air began to thicken with magic.

Lucius surreptitiously pulled out his wand. Hermione's magic would never allow Draco to come to harm but it might become necessary to shield the rest of them from it if she continued to lose her temper.

"Everybody in this room has worked and sacrificed to keep you safe over the past year and to break that horrible connection!" She poked rather viciously at her own forehead. "Sirius broke out of Azkaban to protect you. Are you just going to throw that back in our faces?" She spat. "Well, I wish you'd saved us the trouble and just let that dragon eat you! Of course if you had Neville would still be dead, because I don't think the fucking Dark Lord was going to give up on coming back to life just because Harry Potter was already taken care of!" She let out a sob and Draco actually threw himself on top of her and began murmuring into her ear, and slowly the magic in the air began to dissipate.

The silence in the room was as oppressive as ever.

Eventually Draco sat up, pulling Hermione along with him. She immediately scrambled to kick off her shoes and curl herself into a ball against his side. Potter just sat looking absolutely stunned.

"Well," Narcissa began after a few minutes. "I suppose we're all feeling a little emotional."

"Actually," Black said, his tone glacial as he glared at his godson. "I think that was very well said. Don't test me Harry, I will take your wand and ward you into the house. Now, what comes next that doesn't involved Harry taking out an ad in the Prophet inviting You Know Who to kill him?"

"Lucius and I discussed this briefly last night. We think it would be best to send the children out of the country."

"What, no! I can't leave Hogwarts until I sit my O.W.L.s!" Hermione protested. "It's illegal, I won't ever be able to come back!"

"Just for the summer, for now," she soothed. "Nobody will think it odd for you to go away for the summer and you'll be safe overseas

"That sounds like a fantastic idea," Richard immediately interjected.

"Where would we go?" Draco asked.

"There are many options, a beach, perhaps?" Lucius said, quirking an eyebrow at his son. He didn't imagine for a moment that he'd turn down the opportunity to spend the entire summer with Hermione on a beach.

But then he noticed him and Hermione exchanging a glance, just a quick thing, but it spoke to a sort of silent communication between a couple that usually took decades to establish. They were going to have to stop calling them children.

"We still want to train though, if possible," Draco answered. "A bit of a holiday would be nice, but neither of us would feel right just laying around all summer knowing what's happening here. We want to be ready."

Lucius' heart clenched in his chest and he rubbed a thumb over the back of his wife's palm at how telling his son's words were. Hermione and Draco weren't planning to stay out of this conflict, and in less than two years their parents wouldn't have a legal or magical leg to stand on to try and stop them. He'd never felt such a combination of pride and terror.

"I think that can be arranged," he conceded easily.

"What about Harry?" Hermione asked.

"Mr. Potter is, of course, welcome."

Hermione didn't even glance at her friend. "Sirius?" She pled.

"I agree with Richard, I think that seems like a fantastic idea. I'd happily volunteer a Black property too. Nobody would think look for Draco there."

"What do you think Harry?" Hermione asked, finally looking at him again.

He let out a long breath. "Yeah, okay," he nodded. "It seems a little bit wrong, but at the same time we can train anywhere."

"Who will accompany them though?" Helen spoke up. "They're too young to spend an entire summer on their own, even with tutors coming and going. Richard and I could take a couple of weeks, but we can't afford to leave our practice for longer than that."

"What you're saying is that you object to the idea of your teenage daughter alone with two teenage boys, one of whom is her boyfriend? I'm offended Helen," Draco held a hand to his chest in faux indignation.

She chuckled and then the rest of them joined in. Lucius was grateful to his son for injecting even a small amount of levity into the situation.

"A boyfriend who literally just tackled my girl and laid on top of her in front of us and his parents," Richard grumbled; it was equal parts resignation and irritation.

Lucius suppressed a sigh. He had fully embraced Hermione. He'd accepted the Grangers. He'd even conceded that they couldn't afford to shut muggleborns out of their society. But he didn't think he would ever amend his view that there were unfortunate side-effects to mixing muggles and magicals in the same company.

By definition muggles were ignorant to magic. And he'd noticed that Richard- and to a lesser extent Helen- tended to forget that magic was not a parlor trick but part of their daughter's very being. She could not be separated from it and it was a major part of her relationship with Draco.

She was already being enveloped into the Malfoy, as well as the Black family magic. The morning Hermione and Draco had performed their betrothal ritual he'd sat straight up in bed, shocked by the alteration to his magic. It was almost as powerful as Draco's birth. And while he had loved Hermione for years, now it went much deeper, it had become an intrinsic part of him. He hadn't said as much to Narcissa, but he had longed to call for Hermione last night as well because without her there was a hole in him.

And Draco's reaction to her earlier magical upset had been as natural as breathing. Lucius knew how it had probably looked to Richard Granger, if any other boy had touched Hermione like that he would have been up in arms himself. But Draco wasn't any other boy, and there had been absolutely nothing inappropriate or even vaguely sexual about his actions, and Lucius felt himself bristling at the comment. He took a calming breath; they had enough to deal with.

"I think that boyfriend just kept our daughter from blowing up his parents sitting room," Helen said quietly.

Lucius nodded in the woman's direction and she shot him a tight smile.

"I too could do a week here or there," Narcissa brought the discussion back on track, "but I'll need to be here to support Lucius, I can't be away all summer."

"Have I just been volunteered by process of elimination?" Sirius laughed. "Well damn, that sounds terrible, go hang out with the kids on the beach for a summer. You're all evil for forcing me into this."

"Consider yourself volunteered then," Lucius drawled. "Anything that you find unpleasant is acceptable to me," he continued in the spirit of sarcasm in which the original comment was offered.

"We will have to inform Dumbledore though."

Lucius just quirked an eyebrow in question.

"Of your loyalties," Sirius clarified. "If I'm not around to report to him, you'll have to do it yourself. But frankly I think it's time that we all joined the same team. It was one thing before, but now…"

Lucius sighed, the other man had a point. Now that the Dark Lord was fully back they were on an even more truncated timeline and could use any resource that they could get. Also, it would be complicated to the point of absurdity to hide his identity from the leader of the light from here on out. He didn't like it, but he understood the necessity.

"I agree, and there's nothing like the present, we can use this news of the Dark Lord's return to help convince him that I am serious. Severus has probably already informed him, but my unsolicited voluntary confirmation is different. Will he see you if you owl him?"

Sirius nodded. "He should, I can do that now." He rose from his seat and strode in the direction of the owelry.

"The rest of us can have brunch while we wait for his answer. We can decide where the children will spend the summer," Narcissa said with forced cheerfulness.

Lucius squeezed her hand before helping her up. "I'd like a word with Draco and Hermione though, please."

As Narcissa led Potter and the Grangers towards the dining room Lucius waved his son and Hermione towards his study. They followed him, but stopped just inside the doorway, Hermione clinging to Draco's arm and both of them looking very hesitant. He leaned against the front of his desk and regarded them. "You're not in trouble. Did you think that you were?"

Draco shrugged.

"It's been a bad day," Hermione clarified.

"I truly just wanted to speak with you," he gestured them forward encouraging them to close the distance. But found himself at a loss as to exactly what he wanted to say. He felt as if he'd come to terms with his mortality over the course of the past twenty-four hours and that was a heady thing.

He knew he could be summoned again at any moment, expected it, in fact. The Dark Lord would not be satisfied simply to have succeeded in his ritual for long, he would have plans he wanted to move forward. And Lucius didn't want to leave anything unsaid if things went awry on one of those occasions. Especially as they'd just decided that two of the three most important people in the world to him were about to go abroad for months.

"I just wanted you both to know how much I love you."

Draco froze and Hermione sucked in a loud breath.

"Father, don't." His son swallowed and reached for him.

"I'm not planning on doing anything foolish, and I have no intention of giving up. But my eyes have been well and truly opened to the precarious nature of my situation." He placed one arm around Draco's shoulders. "You are the best thing that I have ever done, by far, and I take comfort knowing that if anything were to happen to me, that you will look after your mother. But Draco," he turned the younger man and extended his arms so that he was holding his son by both shoulders and could look him in the eyes. "I know I have raised you to be proud of our name, but I fear that I have made you feel the need to put the Malfoy legacy before anything else. When it comes down to it, your duty to your family is to love and protect your mother and Hermione, and to a lesser extent your grandmother, aunt, and cousin. Their lives are what's really important, do you understand me? Not this place," he gestured to the Manor around him.

Draco nodded.

"I'm prouder of you than I can possibly express."

Draco let out a suspiciously shaky breath and looked away, moving to stand beside him. Lucius let him have his moment. He gestured to Hermione with his free arm, he refused to let go of Draco completely.

She rushed towards him and eagerly tucked herself under his arm. He felt rather than heard Draco chuckle; she had always been so enthusiastic, it had once annoyed him, but it was now one of his favorite things about her.

"I have heard Narcissa describe you as a light in our lives more than once, and I can't agree more, Mignonette. And just like I trust Draco to take care of Narcissa, if necessary, I trust you to take care of him."

"Of course," she snuffled.

"And maybe give my wife a handful of grandchildren to indulge."

He felt her freeze and held back a laugh when she reared back, her nose wrinkled, her face a picture of indignation. "A handful?!"

He saw the moment she realized that he was playing with her and allowed himself a laugh.

She tilted her head this way and that. "Not funny, Father."

The slowly blooming smile on her face told him that she too was toying with him, pushing her boundaries, but the sincerity in her eyes told him that she truly meant the moniker.

"I wasn't joking, Daughter, though I think that you are only one of two people in the world who think that I'm even occasionally funny."

"I find your constant efforts to pretend that Narcissa isn't the boss of you to be hilarious," she deadpanned.

Draco looked momentarily horrified, until he began to laugh, and then his son joined in. He would fight like hell, but if worse came to worst his family would survive. Draco and Hermione carried the soul of it within them. And whereas he might doubt himself, they were strong enough, they were light enough to make it through the looming darkness.

Author's Note: Thanks to Weestarmeggie for letting me pick her brain, and then reading this over, and then repeat! And thank you all for reading and sticking with this story. The comments I get on it, and other forms of love, here and elsewhere consistently make my days!