Disclaimer: Harry Potter, etc., don't belong to me.
Notes: Severus' point of view. Severus-Lucius, hints of Severus-the only other person I write him with. Welcome to Azkaban.
Azkaban is dark – almost pitch black, except for the soft glow of grey cloaks that the dementors wear – and swirls with restrictive wards and dark magic and terror. Fear is a magic all its own, he knows, but does not turn and flee when the anti-magical wards press painfully against him. Azkaban does not like magicians, and these stabbing wards are trying to purge the magic from his blood. Even with most of the dementors gone, it is still a place that steals souls.
The faint light of his wand is absorbed almost instantly by the darkness, and his patronus is his only company as he searches endless rows of cells for the appropriate magical signature. A patronus is generally useless once a wizard passes into Azkaban, for the dementors know that magic in such walls will not last.
But his patronus remains, growling and snapping its jaws – inspiring fear where most patroni bring comfort and love – and the dementors stay away. It amuses him sometimes that his patronus and his boggart are the same, but then he feels a frightened burst of familiar magic and hurries on.
There, the cell at the far end – he knows that magic, and pushes himself forward when he wants nothing more than to turn and run. To leave this place and never, ever come back. He does not need to be here, he tells himself, it is not his responsibility. But it is, and so he dismisses his patronus – funny how such a monster can look at him so reproachfully, and with eyes he knows so well – and slips into the cell.
Lucius is huddled in a corner, his perfect blonde hair hanging in dirty strands down to his shoulders or plastered to his face with sweat. He breathes through his mouth in sharp staccato bursts, sounding like a man who has been running a very long time.
The magical wards slice along the skin, peeling away what magic they can find, and he is glad that he does not have to stay. He sees what Azkaban can do, how it can bring pride to its knees and leave an arrogant, powerful man trembling in a corner and smelling of his own waste.
He does not have to be here, he tells himself again – he can leave. This is not his place, he does not owe Lucius anything and . . . he kneels down in front of the pale wizard who is still dressed in Death eater robes, still clutching the hood tightly in one hand. What is his place, when he fights on two sides of a war and warms two beds and does he owe one man less because he doesn't love him? "Lucius," he says quietly, trying to keep from alerting the dementors to his presence.
Grey eyes – like metal bars and dementors' cloaks and shattered steel – rimmed with red look uncomprehendingly up at him. "Se'rus?" he whispers, sounding as though he does not believe what is right in front of him. Severus moves forward, but Lucius flinches away, turning to vomit weakly. "No," he murmurs, "not again. Take what you want, but leave me him!" And for a moment Severus does not understand, but then remembers there are still dementors roaming the halls, feasting on the memories and joys of the man in this cell.
"Lucius," he says again, voice going hard because he is not gentle and he does not want to be here, does not want to see Lucius laid so low. Lucius refuses to look at him. "Lucius, it's Severus."
He grabs the square jaw, jerking it forward so that Lucius is forced to look at him, suppressing his shudder at the man's scent. Lucius tries to pull away but is too weak – and he's always been stronger than Severus, and taller, and in control.
So he looks because Severus makes him, tightens his grip against the clammy skin and waits for recognition to dawn in those pale eyes. It finally does, though Lucius still appears suspicious, and Severus gladly lets go.
"Good," he continues briskly, reaching into his outer robe and pulling out assorted vials and a fresh change of clothes and a bottle of the Malfoy's best wine. "Now stand up and start acting like a wizard."
It is difficult, dragging Lucius to his feet and scouring the whole cell and the man before trying to pour potions down his unresponsive throat and patiently cleaning off the mess they make of his face.
He does not have to be here, he reminds himself, but he knows it isn't true. He knows no one comes to Azkaban, no one visits. It is not his job, his patronus had told him angrily, to look after the enemy. But he fights on two sides of a war and either he has no enemies, or everyone is his enemy.
It is difficult, changing Lucius' robes while he waits for the medicine to take effect, looking at the familiar pale skin with the muscle stripped away. Azkaban eats away at magic, but the magic is the wizard and Azkaban has eaten at Lucius' once perfect body.
He unshrinks two chairs and a table – both from Malfoy Manor, Narcissa's wrath assuredly waiting him when he returns without them – and sets Lucius in one of them, pours him some wine, and waits. It will matter to Lucius, he knows, that there is this dignity. It is everything to him, this appearance of sophistication. Image, Lucius had told him once, matters more than anything.
So he waits, and sees it when grey eyes flash silver – and silver reminds him of the moon and of home where he would like to be, where magic isn't being torn away from him like his skin being peeled from his bones – and Lucius straightens, reaching one shaking hand out to take his glass of wine.
"Mmm," the blonde man hums approvingly, not realizing that Severus can see how tightly he clutches the stem of his glass, how tightly he clutches onto this illusion of humanity, "an excellent vintage." He narrows his eyes jokingly. "The most expensive bottle in my cellar, if I'm not mistaken?" Severus inclines his head in acknowledgement, knowing that Lucius will not be angry.
"I thought perhaps we should celebrate," comes his reply, sipping from his own fluted glass.
"Celebrate what?" The voice is still weak, and Lucius keeps looking at Severus as though he is waiting for him to disappear. Severus wonders what memories they stole, the dementors – what joyful memories Lucius could have had to lose.
"The Ministry's acknowledgement of our Lord." Severus speaks innocuously, watches calmly as the glass shatters in Lucius' hand and red wine mingles with thicker, darker blood. Sighing, he reaches across the table to pull the glass shards out of Lucius' palm, feeling like he is dealing with a first year student – but no, he is not so patient with his students.
By the time he repairs the glass and pours more wine, Lucius has begun to breathe normally again. "I don't want to talk about that," he demands, trying to sound dismissive. The hand that Severus healed convulses on the table, and Severus can see the Department of Mysteries in Lucius' grey eyes.
"As you wish," he agrees complacently. "Then drink to celebrate High Inquisitor Umbridge's departure from Hogwarts." When he was young, Lucius had taught Severus how to duel – but there is always a day where the student becomes greater than the master, and Severus had become the better swordsman long ago.
"I had her hired, Severus," Lucius objects, not looking as offended as he means to. If anyone else had said it, he would have been furious. Or at least, given the appearance of fury. But even his image slips, around Severus. And does he owe Lucius less? The familiar voice telling him that he does not need to be there grows silent, and Severus reminds it – foolishly, as though it could hear him – whose bed he will warm tonight.
"She was insufferable," Severus points out, swirling the wine around in his glass.
"She was better than Dumbledore!" argues Lucius hotly, taking a large swallow without savoring it, his image cracking. Severus watches him inhale deeply, schooling his aristocratic face into the haughty, familiar expression.
He waits, then ripostes with: "She questioned my capability as a Potions Master."
A pause, and grey eyes flicker with realization. "Oh," Lucius says quietly. "She did have to go then, didn't she?" There is acceptance in that, and the pride that Severus feels at his abilities is mirrored in silvery eyes that have known him almost his whole life in one way or another. He fights on two sides of a war – one because it is right and good and true, and the other because he had belonged there once, in the darkness. Because Lucius was there, and still is.
"She did," Severus agrees, and they drink to that.
Another drink, another tilt of the bottle to fill empty glasses. "How is Draco doing?" the boy's father wonders, and Severus shrugs.
"Frightened for you," he answers, telling pieces of the truth. That is what he does – everyday, with everyone – truth interwoven and twisted and tainted until it is nothing more than a lie, but an honest one. "He hates it with his mother."
Lucius' face curls into an angry sneer, grey eyes going dark. "And how is my dear wife?" he asks venomously.
"Busy convincing Voldemort –" Lucius flinches "– that your family is loyal, and that you should be freed." There is a very small piece of truth in that – Narcissa is indeed trying to free Lucius, but mainly because he has made the Malfoy fortune unavailable to her when he is not there.
Lucius laughs at him, but behind the amusement he seems hurt. "Don't lie, Se'rus," he commands, but he is really begging and Severus wishes he would not use that name. Not now. Not anymore. "Not to me."
Severus sips the wine, and thinks of his boggart – it calms him, to do that. "Funny," he responds, voice smooth as it has always been, "I thought you preferred it when I lied to you." And Lucius flinches again, and Severus remembers why he does not like telling the truth.
"She hasn't come to visit," the pale wizard mumbles into his glass, making Severus grateful that the bottle refills itself.
"No," he acknowledges, and they both know that she won't come to visit, anymore than she visited her dearest sister. And he hates this; he hates it here and hates seeing Lucius' silken blonde hair streaked with grey. It is too familiar, and greying hair does not belong on Lucius but on someone else, someone waiting for Severus to leave this place.
"And what about you?" Lucius wonders, and Severus worries that his face has given something away, because the other wizard looks angry. "You're fucking someone, aren't you?" His cultured voice is hard and he practically spits the word, and Severus thinks again how stupid the Light side is for believing that Dark wizards do not have hearts. Severus knows better, for he has broken one of them many times.
"Temper," he warns, reminding Lucius to shore up his façade, reminding him that image is everything. "If you'll recall, I've been fucking someone – as you put it – for the past twenty years."
Lucius is in danger of breaking his wineglass again. "Yes," he grinds out, forcing the words through his teeth, "but it used to be me!"
"And now it's not." Severus' speaks firmly, and does not feel bad when he sees the pain flash across Lucius' newly lined face. He is not gentle, and he wishes Lucius would rebuild his façade so that Severus did not have to look at him.
The wineglass does shatter again, but it is because Lucius has hurled it against the wall, pieces of glass clinking as they hit the stone floor, expensive wine dripping down the walls. Lucius' injured hand clenches and unclenches and his breathing is heavy as Severus picks up the pieces of glass and the pieces of the truth and builds something new. His skin aches from the wards, and it is time to go.
"Lucius," he says, still kneeling on the floor cleaning up the shards of the truth that Lucius broke because he did not want to hear. "Lucius, I'm leaving."
Grey eyes widen, and he can see the fear flit across the square face before it is ruthlessly repressed. He can see the truth in those eyes, and curses Azkaban for breaking down Lucius' façade and forcing him to see what is really there. Dark wizards do have hearts, just as much as Light wizards' have them, for Severus has known both – it is only that it is easier to hide your heart in the darkness.
"Fine," Lucius bites out, and that is good because that is how they speak to each other, because it is safer when they are both lying. He does not have to be here any longer, and it is time to leave. But first he must take the pieces of glass and twist them into something else.
He does, and hands Lucius the small hand size mirror, reflecting grey eyes and greying hair and a haggard face. Lucius looks old in the mirror, as he never has before. He looks like Black looked, but there is no one to save Lucius like Potter and Remus and Dumbledore tried to save Black. And if all of them could not save one mangy animagus, then there is no hope at all for . . . Severus crushes the thought. There has never been any hope on this side of the war, and there is never any saving.
"Keep this," Severus tells him, folding Lucius' fingers around the palm sized piece of glass, not responding when Lucius folds his fingers back around Severus' instead. It is time to leave, time to return to the other side where someone waits to save him.
He starts to disengage his fingers, forcing Lucius to choose between holding onto his hand and keeping hold of the mirror. Their eyes lock – black and grey, Azkaban's darkness and dementors' cloaks – and Severus tilts his head toward the mirror. Image is everything, he tells the captured wizard silently, it is more than prison and more than a wife who does not love you and more than losing someone to the side of the Light, no matter who that someone is. And if you can only hold onto one thing, Severus continues with his eyes, you must choose it now.
Lucius nods, taking the mirror in both hands and letting go of Severus' thin fingers, using the altered glass to center his face and coax the condescending sneer back onto his lips. Severus pretends not to notice that Lucius' hands tremble as he turns to the door.
His patronus, he knows, will be waiting on the other side – it is more stubborn than most, and does not seem to leave even when he tries to drive it away, and he is grateful. He is grateful that there is someone to love him even though his heart is obscured by darkness, and he knows that he can never repay them for loving him in spite of himself.
But does he owe the other man less, because he does not love him?
He stops, one hand on the door, and looks behind him. Lucius has not moved, but he has turned the mirror so that instead of reflecting his face it reflects Severus' back as he walks away. And Severus knows even Dark hearts can break. "I will –" and Severus hates that he has to clear his throat, that his voice is rusted and no longer any good for dueling "– I will see you again." Lucius does not look up, only watches Severus' face in the mirror, and Severus is glad. It is a piece of the truth, after all. "You will be free soon," he adds, trying not to listen as Lucius hiccups when he inhales, trying not to look past the shattered façade and glimpse the man.
Then he is through the door and there is his patronus, hackles raised and familiar eyes peering up at him from the hideous visage and Severus nods at it, letting it lead him safely out of this place. He strides easily down the dark corridors and does not think of the face that greying blonde hair hid from his sight, does not think about shattered wine glasses or injured hands or injured hearts because there is no saving here – not in Azkaban, not on the Dark side of the war. There is no saving here, and his patronus is leading him home.