Warnings: Slash (i.e. male/male love & sex.), but not too graphic. If this is not to your taste, please go elsewhere.

Disclaimer: Characters and situations are the property of JK Rowling and those she has permitted to use them. I am using them without permission for non-profit making purposes, just for the fun of it.

Huge thanks to Excessivelyperky for interrupting her holiday to beta this fic for me! Her fantastic epic alternative to Book 6 'The Birthday Present' is amazing. I can't recommend it highly enough! x

Written for the Severus/Lucius Romance Fest 2007 over on Live Journal.

Prompt: # 25. It is the day after Voldemort's defeat. Lucius and Severus have both survived and find themselves free to pursue that which they want: each other. There are still many things that need to be settled and overcome...

…….

Prologue: A few months after the end of HBP

…HP…

Harry's breath was coming in gasps so violent they almost choked him.

His whole body vibrated from the force of each thumping heartbeat as he stood over the kneeling figure before him, unable to quite believe that he held a wand in each hand, while the more powerful wizard had none.

"Congratulations, Potter," drawled Snape, still managing to sneer effectively, despite his dangerous disadvantage. "It appears that you have made tremendous progress in both spellcraft and basic intelligence over the past six months. Whom should I thank for training you well enough to hunt me down and best me in such a brief space of time?"
"Moody," spat Harry, trying to hold his hands steady. Snape nodded.
"Of course. I should have recognised some of those underhanded yet highly efficacious borderline illegal curses," Snape gave a humourless smirk.
"Everyone else kept telling me to go back to school, refusing to teach me anything helpful," the younger man knew that his foe was merely stalling for time with this conversation, searching, snake-like, for an opportunity to escape. Harry remained vigilant. Constantly. "Alastor was the only one who seemed to understand what I need to do."
"How typical of wizarding society. They set you up as a hero, yet deny you the means to survive long enough to complete your task," the silky voice was full of understanding, but Harry did not lower his guard. He gripped his own wand even tighter, ready for anything.

"Well, I've had a new task since last June, Snape," he said quietly. "And tonight I get to finish it."

The rush of blood through Harry's ears almost deafened him. This was the moment he had longed for since the horrific night on the Astronomy Tower when he had seen Dumbledore pay the ultimate price for his kind and trusting nature. Then, he had been unable to land even one spell on the murderer, too blinded, he later realised, by grief and his own tumultuous anger to focus his magic properly. Bellatrix Lestrange had once told him that to cast an Unforgivable, you had to really mean it. Mad-eye Moody had taught him to channel his entire being - magical, physical and spiritual - down the shaft of his wand in order to achieve the most powerful manifestations of his own will. He used both lessons now.

The air crackled with electric fury. Snape snapped his head up, the smugness finally fading from his face.

"Potter, don't, you…"
"Shut up, Snape," he snarled, thrusting his wand forwards. "It's over."
"But you can't…!"
"WATCH ME!"
"Potter, listen…!"
"Avada Kedavra!"

The world exploded. Harry flew through the air as the strength of the spell kicked back at him. 'So this is how it feels to kill,' he mused to himself, lying on the floor seconds later, his limbs twitching and stomach spasming as though he was about to be sick. Bits of plaster and pages of blasted books fell all around in a gentle drizzle, all tinged green from the brilliant flash of light which had flooded the house and made Harry incapable of seeing any other colour.

He had done it! He had avenged Dumbledore and his parents by killing Snape! After six months of plotting, hoping and dreaming, he had finally dispatched the evil traitor! Exhilarated laughter stuttered out of his throat, echoing oddly in the ruined room. Then Harry realised he had stopped laughing, yet the laughter continued. He seized his wand and flung himself up onto his knees.

"Who's there?!" he shouted, then gave a small scream when Severus Snape got shakily to his feet a few yards away from him, his hand clutching a bleeding gash across his right cheek.

"I have said it before, and I daresay I shall have cause to say it again," the voice was ragged, but dripping with humour. "Harry James Potter, you really are the biggest dunderhead I have ever had the misfortune to encounter."

Seven Years Later

…LM…

Lucius Malfoy laid down his toothbrush and counted to nine before it disappeared.

He took three short strides over to his narrow bed, rolled back the lower left corner of the thin mattress and found the sharp stone he kept hidden there. Sitting on the floor, he reached up and scratched the date into his wall chart, then added 'ix' in the column he reserved for this particular information. He leaned back and studied the figures stretching upwards as high as he could reach while standing on his bed, and almost three-quarters of the way around the cell.

This was most exciting. Not only had They taken more than double the average length of time to magically recall his toothbrush, They had actually set a new record. He tended to discount the anomalous eleven seconds on the day the news of Albus Dumbledore's death broke, as either They had been distracted by the unbelievable tidings, or Lucius had made an error with his counting. He had only just begun to record his everyday data back then, and his head had still been full of plans and schemes to bribe or blast his way through the ancient walls to freedom.

He could no longer remember exactly when he had accepted that he would be in Azkaban for an extended period of time. It may have been on reading that his accommodating, malleable contact, Fudge, had been banned from setting foot in the Ministry in any capacity whatsoever, and would therefore no longer be of use, despite all those good dinners and presents which had been lavished on him. It could also have been when he heard that the Dark Lord had attacked the fortress to reach Lucius - not in order to rescue his loyal servant as a reward for years of devoted service, oh no. It had been in order to kill him for failing to take care of some scruffy old notebook or something which had been given to him for safekeeping years ago. He had a vague idea that it finally happened around the time that the Daily Prophet carried the front-page picture of the smoking crater where Malfoy Manor used to be.

Nine seconds! He smiled to himself at Their slowness. It was undoubtedly a result of the events of yesterday morning, when Their break-room wireless had been on since sunrise, and Their whooping had echoed loud and jubilant through the damp corridors, shortly followed by clanging doors, then curses and threats in half-remembered voices. Those colourful expletives bouncing around the bare walls could only have come from Avery. The high-pitched shrieking and wheedling were familiar - but it had taken him a little longer to identify Pettigrew. During the commotion one of Them had called to the others, 'At least she's not back! Spitting and biting will do no good where she's gone!' So he had known even before reading the paper - his one luxury, his one contact with the rest of the world - that it was all over, the Death Eaters were defeated, his sister-in-law and probably many others were dead.

A dull double thump startled Lucius from his thoughts, as the breakfast tray was pushed through his door, a good seventeen minutes before it was due. In another shocking break from his trusted routine, one of Them yanked open the observation panel and snarled at him through it.
"Hoi, 509f, eat that quick. The Head of Magical Law Enforcement wants to see you when you're finished."

Lucius smiled down at the familiar tray. An interview with the MLE Chief. This could be a very useful development indeed for assessing what the future had in store for a man imprisoned for being a follower of a powerful wizard who was now dead. He would need to muster all his wits if he were to make the most of this chance. Perhaps some manner of deal could be brokered.

He poked at the meal in front of him. The porridge was its usual shade of grey, the correct vulcanised consistency for a weekday (there was a different cook at weekends, who preferred a sloppier effect); the liquid in the chipped enamel mug was at the correct tepid temperature and smelled as though it may once, in a long-passed moment of youthful optimism, have nurtured aspirations of becoming coffee. He let the drink settle until the surface was perfectly still, then made the daily inspection of his own face.

It was difficult to gauge the colour of his skin in the watery brown drink, but he expected it to be rather pale and sickly, having not seen the sun in eight years. The hairs he found on his pillow in the morning were just as likely to be white as blonde of late, but the wrinkles weren't too deep or numerous, and even the ravages of prison could do little to blunt the impeccable Malfoy cheekbones. As far as Lucius could tell, turning his face from one side to the other in the improvised mirror, he wasn't looking too bad, given the circumstances. This was rather fortunate, as he had need of his looks in order to implement the new plan.

Ever since he had read the unbelievable news of the appointment of the current Head of MLE, he had known that his only real chance of freedom lay in the hands of his one remaining contact. He chewed his porridge and tried to sharpen his brain. Everything hung on the outcome of this meeting. Everything hung on the impression he made on this man.

…….

Unexpectedly, Lucius was glad to have one of Them on either elbow as they made their way through the Ministry. The hurly-burly of the place was most disconcerting, with hundreds of witches and wizards talking and laughing in loud voices as they dashed and skipped through the corridors, delighted by the end of the long, dark war. The combination of noise and brightness took Lucius by surprise, unnerving him and making a treacherous little voice deep inside his head long to be back in his quiet cell. He flinched as a flock of Memoranda whizzed through the air above their heads, just as a handful of young witches walking the opposite direction suddenly screeched with laughter.

His initial reaction was to take umbrage that these vapid girls dared to mock him, Lucius Malfoy, for being bound and escorted in shame through the building where he once reigned supreme. Then his umbrage faded, turning into something rather pathetic as he realised that not only were they not laughing at him, but that they had failed to recognise him at all. He surveyed the sea of faces as he walked, noting glumly that none of them spared him even a second glance, that he was as unremarkable as the wallpaper.

Before he had chance to grow despondent, the convoy arrived at the Magical Law Enforcement Department, and he was dragged through more corridors and finally deposited in the office of the assistant to the Head of MLE. A vaguely familiar Chinese girl didn't look up from whatever she was working on and asked in a Scottish accent:

"Name?"

"L…," Lucius found that his voice was hoarse from disuse. He cleared his throat and managed to croak. "Lucius Malfoy."

She looked up at that, studying him critically. She looked young, about the same age as Draco, so perhaps she had been a classmate of his.

"Go in, he's expecting you," she nodded towards a solid oak door with a shiny brass plaque and turned back to her papers, all curiosity apparently satisfied.

Lucius realised that he was nervous as The One on his right knocked firmly on the door and they were granted entry. He chided himself for his foolishness and forced his attention to the task before him. This interview was the most important thing he had done in years, so he needed all his faculties focussed and ready to engage in battle.

The door swung inwards and the three men marched in, confronted with a huge mahogany desk, shelves upon shelves of paperwork, and the back of an expensive leather chair.

"Thank you, gentleman," the impossibly smooth voice from the chair caused a small thrill to rush through Lucius.

"But, sir, our orders are to not leave him for a second!" The One on the left said.

"Yeah, he's dangerous, Chief," said The One on the right.

"Your new orders supersede the old. You may go. Thank you," added the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Grumbling, they detached themselves from Lucius and stomped away.

The studded leather chair swung around and Lucius couldn't stop the smile spreading over his face, probably making him look like an idiot, but perhaps that was not such a bad thing if it gave the other man the sensation of superiority. He realised that he hadn't quite believed what he had read in the Prophet until he saw it with his own eyes.

"Severus," he whispered.

"Lucius," Snape smirked back.

Power clearly agreed with Severus Snape. His hair was still jet black, with only the subtlest hints of grey at his temples. There was no sign of it receding or thinning, even though he brushed it back now, rather than letting it hang in his face like a limp and greasy protective barrier as he had in the past. His frame had filled out and he was dressed in a very well-cut robe - still black, apparently some things didn't change - with what appeared to be a spider-woven cravat of diaphanous silver tied at his throat. What drew Lucius' eye most insistently however was the livid, lightning-bolt shaped scar.

Snape saw him looking and brought his fingers up to his cheek, smoothing them along the jagged line in a vaguely hypnotic gesture which made Lucius uncomfortable for reasons he could not quite fathom.

"How much do you know?" Snape asked, with bright calculation in his eyes, still stroking the scar.

"Only what was in the paper, and what I read between the lines," Malfoy shrugged, wrenching his eyes from Snape's long, pale fingers with some effort. "Potter tried to kill you but botched it because you were both loyal to the old man, then Scrimgeour decided you were more use to him in the Ministry than as my next-door-neighbour, so forced the media to cast you has some kind of misunderstood hero. Now your scar is a symbol of the depth of your unswerving dedication to the cause of the Light, or something. Am I far off the mark?"

"No, not far," Snape motioned towards two comfortable armchairs arranged near the window, faintly amused. Noticing his guest blinking in the unaccustomed glare of the sun, he drew down the blind. Lucius nodded his gratitude. A tea service appeared on a small table next to them, and Snape poured, watching Lucius' face as though greatly entertained by his appreciation of the delicate china cups, and the way his eyes almost popped out at the generous plateful of biscuits which accompanied every Ministry meeting. Lucius guardedly watched Snape watching him, feeling out of practice at reading expressions and body language but trying not to appear too pathetic. He stood no chance at remaining composed, however, when he bit into a chocolate biscuit and tasted sweetness for the first time in eight years. Snape avidly drank in the contortions of pleasure which he was simply incapable of masking as the chocolate melted all over his tastebuds, so sweet and creamy and decadent.

He took a sip of tea and swallowed, wondering what in Merlin's name was wrong with him. He had never been terribly fond of sweets, firmly believing that sort of thing was only really suitable for children or hormone-harried women. Either prison food had made him unusually appreciative of life's more banal treats, or the sneaky swine seated opposite had put something funny in the biscuits. Both options were perfectly possible.

He composed himself and looked calmly over at Snape, who was outwardly impassive, but for a slight tightness about the edges of his mouth which Lucius suspected was the residue of a suppressed smirk.

"Tell me what happened," he prompted, to shift the focus away from himself.

"When I first defected to Albus Dumbledore, after Regulus' death," Snape began. "He gave me his trust, but didn't feel that he could risk so much on a personal hunch. I agreed to perform a fealty ritual with him, which involved sharing a small amount of each other's blood and magical essence. I promised to obey his orders -real orders, I mean, such as 'When the time is right, you will kill me,' not pointless vagaries like 'do try to be nicer to Harry' - in return for his constantly protecting me from harm. This blood bond meant that Potter's Avada failed to kill me, partly because of some lingering shield from having absorbed Albus' energy, and partly because Potter and I had both sworn personal loyalty to him in different, but magically irrefutable ways."

"So you probably couldn't have killed him either?" asked Lucius, fascinated, despite himself by Snape's brush with immortality.

"Regrettably, I have yet to attempt it," Snape gave a scowl as though this was an unfortunate oversight, before continuing his narrative. "Once Potter stopped having hysterics, the aurors arrived and I was subjected to all manner of indignities upon which I shall not elaborate, the result being that they eventually believed me true to Albus' cause. My knowledge of the working methods of Voldemort…" Luicus jerked back in shock on hearing his old colleague speak the name aloud. Snape gave him a short glare before continuing. "Of Voldemort and most of the Death Eaters, meant that I was very useful, so, as you quite rightly say, Rufus and Moody saw it prudent to allow me some input in the waging of the war. I was so successful that they permitted me increasing amounts of freedom, then recognition, then after a great deal of hard work and argument, this job. Every spell I perform is monitored, mind you, and I am required to check in with various babysitters at several points during the day and night, so despite outward appearances, I am not as free as I seem."

Lucius helped himself to another gloriously tasty chocolate biscuit as his mind reeled at this wizard's extraordinary life story.

"You're doing better than me," he shrugged, introducing his current plight to the discussion as casually as he could.

A flicker of sympathy crossed Snape's face so quickly that Lucius only just caught it. The politician leaned forward and said quietly, apologetically:

"One of my first demands to Rufus was your release in return for the tremendous risks I ran in openly opposing Voldemort," Severus turned away, rubbing subconsciously at his ribs and looking very slightly embarrassed. "No one thought I would survive his assassins, but they only managed to get to me once, unsuccessfully as you see. Rufus agreed to free you as part of the deal, but it could only happen after Voldemort's death."

"Oh," Lucius' hand began to shake so he set his cup down onto the saucer, taking a deep breath to steady himself. Misunderstanding, Snape leaned even further forward until their knees were almost touching.

"Lucius, I'm sorry, I know it's taken a long time to get you out, but there was no way the public would accept it while Voldemort was still…"

"Severus," he said sharply, turning to look the other man in the eyes. "Are you telling me that I'm free?"

Snape favoured him with the sort of glare he may have given a Hufflepuff student asking a particularly asinine question in class.

"Of course," he laughed, subconsciously stroking his scar once more. "I dragged Rufus out of bed at six this morning to sign the order."

Lucius looked at his fingernails, then at the finely carved plasterwork of the ceiling, before bursting into laughter, loud and long and uninhibited. He snorted and gasped, went pink in the face and almost fell out of his seat with the kind of boyish enthusiasm which Hogwarts pupils lost sometime during their third year, and which no one had ever witnessed coming from the almighty Lucius Malfoy since he was very small indeed.

Free! He was free! The world had gone mad! Severus bloody-antisocial-ruthless-git Snape was in charge of law and order and had asked his friend the Minister to free him! And a bog-standard McWitty's chocolate biscuit had almost given him a public orgasm!

Snape watched his hilarity for a moment, greatly entertained, then joined in.

…SS…

Snape mused on the overwhelming lightness in the air a little later. He hadn't been in a position to observe the reaction of the Wizarding populace after Voldemort's first defeat, but he doubted they could have been as excitable as they were now. Actually, it was more than excitement. It was a sort of all-embracing joy which one could almost taste, making people sing and cheer for the flimsiest of reasons, cheering up even the bereaved and the mutilated. A tremendous weight had been lifted from their collective shoulders, making everyone float with giddy relief. Plenty of workers were in the Ministry today, but he doubted many besides himself and the unflappable Cho had any intention of being useful. The carnival atmosphere was bursting out all over, even making Lucius giggle like a fool.

Ah, Lucius. Lucius was looking extremely fine for a man who had just finished 8 years in prison. As a close observer of the man's appearance ever since his youthful eyes had first alighted on that fair and icy beauty on a September morning in the Slytherin common room, Severus had made a hobby of mentally chronicling the changes made by time on his face and figure. Lucius was fifty years old now, yet in many ways looked better than ever. A few days of sun wouldn't go amiss, of course, and some fresh air and decent food to undo the ravages of deprivation which no Malfoy had been bred to expect, but the man was every bit as desirable as he had been in his teens.

Severus licked his lips. For the first time, the skinny, ill-bred half-blood was in a position to seriously pursue the golden god he had lusted after nearly all his life. Now, it was Snape who had the upper hand, Snape who was the fine catch, Snape who was turning down offers of marriage and sex. Well, not very many offers, if he was honest with himself, but there had been some, which was an improvement on his earlier life.

He had been stunned years before, on overhearing a drunken Narcissa wailing a little too loudly to her house-elf that she wouldn't mind her husband having another woman, but his having another man was just humiliating. It has been a pointless discovery just then, as Severus had still been a bitter and penniless teacher, only alive thanks to Dumbledore's charity and stood no chance of pulling off a seduction when he had so little to offer. Nonetheless, it had been a glimmer of hope - pleasant to remember during the dark and lonely times that his love was bisexual and the day might dawn when he could be persuaded to turn to his secret admirer.

Nurturing secret desires was all well and good when one stood an ice mouse's chance in hell of fulfilling them, but this morning Severus had made certain that Lucius knew precisely to whom he was indebted for his liberty. The arguments over his fate had been long and unpleasant, and the still-suspected traitor had needed all his skills in diplomacy and persuasion to plead the case. There had been no need to reveal that Scrimgeour had only relented on the night when Snape had allowed his guard to slip for a few seconds and two dark assassins had almost killed him for betraying his former master. It had irked Rufus later, when he realised that Snape would survive and hold him to the promise he had thoughtlessly made on what everyone supposed to be the deathbed.

Lucius had now been escorted to his wife's house, as Snape was being careful not to overplay his hand too soon. He needed Lucius to turn to him slowly, and apparently of his own volition if this plan was to succeed. The Head of MLE he may now be, but to Malfoy, Snape was probably still a nasty little upstart prone to using the wrong fork at dinner. Lucius needed time to realise that everything had changed, and that he couldn't do much better than to connect himself with the new, successful Snape. The formerly gauche lower-class Northerner was confident of claiming his prize now that he had worked his way up to the top of the tree, earned the right to live in Upping Street with the other leaders and called the Minister of Magic by his first name. Now the war was over and his need to constantly prove his devotion to the Light was over, he could set his sights on the greatest achievement of them all: winning Lucius Malfoy as a lover.

He smirked at the thought of the revelations awaiting Lucius in the modest little home Narcissa had created since the destruction of the Manor and everything she had held dear.

It would come as a shock, naturally, but who better to help him through, than his new protector and only friend, Severus Snape.

…LM…

There was a mountain of forms and sworn agreements waiting for Lucius before he was permitted to walk out of the Ministry a free man.

He signed his name at the bottom of sheet after sheet, probably making inconvenient promises and declarations which would seriously impinge upon his future happiness, but for the moment, he just wanted to get it over with. If there was anything really unfortunate tucked away in the sheaf of papers, Snape would find a way to extricate him from it.

Ah, Severus. Lucius was bemused by the strange games Fate had been playing during his incarceration. Lucius had no influence, no money, not even a proper home to go to, and his only ally was Severus Snape. True, the lad had always been intelligent, but had seemed completely lacking in the manners and charm necessary for really making something of himself in the real world, where brown-nosing and flattery oiled the wheels of business. Strange things happen during wartime, however, and thanks to the Potter boy's idiocy, Snape's own stubborn resilience and a lavish helping of luck, the unpromising young man had been transformed from hunted evil murderer into Head of Law Enforcement, and thus probably about the third or fourth most powerful wizard in government. It was incredible. And also rather convenient for Lucius, given his current predicament.

It was absolutely vital that he cherish his only friend. He had decided as much while reading the Prophet from cover to cover in his cell, open-mouthed at the spectacle of the government mouthpiece singing the praises of someone who had so recently been wanted dead or alive. Obviously staged pictures of Snape helping to train Potter, their identical scars clearly visible appeared one week, tales of Death Eater raids foiled thanks to 'cunning strategies devised by Severus Snape' the next, reports of his steady rise through the Ministry the following year. Lucius had sat on his narrow bed and just gaped, wondering if Azkaban had sent him so loopy he had actually started hallucinating. If not, and all these mad reports were true, then he had resolved to ingratiate himself with this political prodigy the moment he got out. The plan seemed to be going his way so far.

Snape had been relaxed and apparently pleased to see him earlier in that impressive office, showing off the best china and posing in spider-silk neckwear which must have cost more than he had earned at Hogwarts in a month. The man must have some kind of agenda, as the painful truth which the newly-freed prisoner had to face was that he was of no use now to anyone, and entirely dependent on others. He would play along with whatever Snape had in mind, watching carefully to find out what the slippery ex-spy was up to. If he had to flirt a little along the way, then so be it. The man was looking better than ever, and if his late associates had been right in their allegations, then a Head of MLE with a crush on him could certainly prove convenient.

Rastaban and a couple of the others used to rag him by saying that Snape was in love with him, years ago, though he had never been convinced. It was so difficult to guess what went on under that greasy mop of hair - even if you managed to discern his face beneath the mask of hanging strands, his expression was permanently sour and shuttered. He did seem to follow Lucius around rather a lot, but then so did plenty of others. Lucius was always the centre of attention.

Not any longer, it appeared. He signed the last chit and looked up expectantly, only to find the clerks who had greeted him had moved into the rear office and were cracking open butterbeers, laughing together and completely ignoring him. He cleared his throat.

Nothing happened.

"Excuse me," he interrupted them with dignity.

"Yes, mate?" asked one.

"I have finished signing these papers," he said.

"Great, just plonk them in the tray there, ta," said the other, taking a long swig.

"And now?" Lucius did as instructed and looked up expectantly.

"What?" said the first one.

"What shall I do now?" he was growing impatient. The sound of singing drifted through the open window from the courtyard outside. Both clerks moved over to have a better look at whatever was going on, obviously finding it more interesting than Lucius and his papers. "Gentlemen?" he was forced to prompt them.

"Eh? Oh, you're free to go," said the second. "Oh, hah hah! Just look at that! What's she doing?"

"Dunno," chortled the other one. "But if she swings that dress up a bit more, everyone's gonna get a look at her…"

"Excuse me?" Lucius felt his face heat with irritation. "Free to go where?"

"Home," they both said, without even looking in his direction. "Cor! Get a load of…"

"And where is home?" it was utterly humiliating to be so ignorant, but the officials were far too intent on enjoying the view to notice.

"Gloucestershire, actually," said a voice behind him. Lucius spun on his heel at the familiar sound and was pleased with what he saw. "Hello, Lucius," Narcissa walked forward and smiled, scrutinising him from head to toe as she did so. He returned both the smile and the scrutiny with relish.

She had gained weight around the hips and face, though that immaculate freshness of her younger days still made her skin glow. The clothes were much cheaper, as was to be expected, just a cotton blouse and skirt, with good but rather worn shoes with a small heel, but her poise was undiminished. Lucius was willing to bet that none of the other women forced into the same plain ready-to-wear items looked half as good as his wife. Her hair was shorter and very simple, probably because she had to do it herself now, instead of Tippy working away for an hour every morning. The thought gave him a twinge of guilt for having ruined his whole family, but he brushed it aside before it made him uncouth with self-pity. After eight years of being apart, the least he could do was offer a compliment.

"You look lovely," he said.

"Oh, do you think so?" she sounded surprised. "I'm not exactly glamorous these days, but I can be smart enough for the office."

"You've got a job?" he frowned as the guilt returned. Women like Narcissa Black were not raised to earn their own living.

"Yes, Severus arranged it. It's nothing spectacular, just filing in the Records Office, but it pays the rent," she shrugged.

"Rent? Ah yes, the house. In Gloucestershire, you said?"

"Yes."

"Charming part of the world, if I remember correctly," Lucius faltered. He had no idea what to say to the witch who had sworn to stand by him forever in the anticipation of great wealth and comfort, yet had met only ruin and almost a decade of solitude thanks to his idiocy. She noticed he was struggling and motioned him through the door with a bright smile.

"Let's find out," she breezed.

…….

Small, was Lucius' first impression. He knew that having grown up in the rambling old Manor, then been confined inside the same tiny cell for years on end was bound to give him a rather skewed concept of size and space, but almost immediately he registered the compactness of the kitchen they flooed into. Everything was clean and neat, but there was a definite sense of wear in all the fixtures and furniture, and he was certain that it could no longer be the fashion to have so much drab brown in a colour scheme.

"Well," Narcissa did not meet his eyes as she brushed a speck of soot from her skirt. "Here we are."

"Very nice," he lied, aware that he would rather have cut out his own tongue at that moment than criticise the circumstances to which his mistakes had reduced his wife. He was casting around for something to observe, when his eye caught the window above the stained sink. "What a delightful view you have!" He meant it too. The kitchen overlooked a pretty little garden, a battered wooden fence, then a breathtaking sweep of gently undulating hills and woodlands. After his long incarceration on the storm-tossed North Sea island, this vision of cosy English countryside was a joy to behold.

"Shall I give you the grand tour?" she asked sardonically. "Then I'm afraid I have to go back to work,"

"What? So soon?" Lucius was only just getting used to having company again. It would certainly feel unpleasant to be alone again, especially in such a strange place.

"Most of my team are younger than me," she explained, again avoiding his eyes. "With all the partying that's going on now, I can't trust them not to have a drunken orgy or set fire to the archives in a fit of high spirits while I'm gone. Here's my floo-code if you need anything, there's plenty of powder on the mantel," she handed him a card. "Oh, and you'd better have Severus' as well - this number is his office, this one is his home. It's very simple, you just throw in the powder as normal, then speak the number instead of the name. It was a security measure we had to bring in during the war."

"Very sensible," he nodded, looking at the square cards. Lucius wondered how many other things had changed during his absence.

The rest of the house was in a similar condition to its kitchen. Here and there he glimpsed evidence of Narcissa's natural good taste in an arrangement of flowers, or a well-chosen framed print detracting attention from a patch of damp on a ceiling. There were a number of hand-embroidered cushions on the sofa too, executed with varying degrees of skill. Lucius entertained himself for a minute by lining them up in order of quality, gauging what he supposed to be his wife's progress in learning how to sew. Then he felt suddenly ashamed of mocking her and replaced them exactly as they had been before.

"Oh, Merlin," he covered his face with his hands, momentarily overwhelmed by the absolute mess he had made of his life. While in Azkaban he had at least had the hope of release to look forward to, his total seclusion having cushioned him from many of the repercussions of his disgrace on his family. Now the longed-for day had arrived and there was nothing to do but absorb the many ways in which he had screwed up. He had been born to achieve great success, and the fall from dizzy heights had been a heavy one. The displacement of walking in a strange house that was his wife's, a free man at last though with little to celebrate, gave the whole scene the feel of a nightmare. If only he could wake up in the second-best bedroom in the Manor, aged twenty, unmarried and still dependent on his father's money and opinions, and have the sense to tell the Dark Lord to take his pie-in-the-sky ideologies and sod off back to the gutter from whence he came.

"Are you all right, Lucius?" asked Severus, appearing out of thin air in the doorway. Lucius realised he must have started, because Severus apologised immediately. "Sorry. I did knock…"

"I was miles away," he tried to compose his features. At least he hadn't been caught crying, though the idea of breaking down and howling on the hearthrug did hold a certain cathartic appeal.

"Should I leave?" Snape asked quietly. "There must be a lot for you to come to terms with today."

"Don't go," Lucius said a bit too desperately. He cleared his throat and sat up straighter. "I mean, why don't you stay and have some tea. I can return your earlier hospitality."

"I'll make it," Severus said quickly, correctly surmising that the heir to all the Malfoy wealth and glory had received the best education that money could buy, covering all manner of knowledge in magic and social niceties befitting his station, but had never once been called upon to do anything so banal as put the kettle on.

A few moments later, they sat together on a stone bench in the garden, while Lucius tried not to become visibly excited at the sound of birdsong, or the feel of the gentle breeze through his hair.

"I let Draco know that you would be here," Snape mentioned casually. Lucius swallowed.

"What did he say?" He cradled the warm cup in both hands, dreading the response.

"He was pleased, but regrets that he is rushed off his feet with work at present, dealing with the aftermath of final battle and so on," the younger man was watching him closely again. "He is looking forward to seeing you once time permits."

Lucius was unpleasantly reminded of all the occasions when his son had been small and wanting to spend him with him, only to be told that Daddy was too busy with work. No wonder Draco had always been upset to hear that - it was absolutely devastating to hear that someone you dearly love considers other things more important than you. Still, he should count himself lucky to have received any kind of positive response. It was more than he deserved.

Lucius had schooled Draco in how to be proud of his name and status, but now the word 'Malfoy' was more likely to earn a slap than a tugged forelock. His actions had left the boy penniless and almost got him killed, so Lucius felt that Draco would be perfectly justified in never speaking to him again. It was a bitter truth to face.

"You saved his life," Lucius suddenly remembered the newsprint letters he had stared and stared at as they spelled out one of the many reasons why Severus had been forced to kill Albus Dumbledore. Snape looked awkward.

"Naturally. Narcissa made me promise…"

"You got Narcissa a job when the estate was declared forfeit, and you got me out of Azkaban when most people would have been happy to see me rot." The Slytherin voice in the back of his mind was trying to remind him that it was never a good idea to list just how much you owe someone, in case they decided to call in the debt, but Lucius was not feeling in full control of himself just then. "You've looked after my family and I for years now, and there's no hope of repayment. Why, Severus? Why do you do it?"

There was a long pause as Snape carefully weighed his response.

"I suppose I am fond of you and your family, Lucius," he said at last. "I have been fortunate enough to be in a position to assist on the occasions you mention. You may say I have been keeping sentimental company during the war, but I consider the three of you as my…friends."

The quiet declaration made a huge impression on Lucius. He had never had such a touching admission directed at him, or never with such absolute sincerity. Even if one remembered that this was Severus Snape, a man so devious he had fooled the Dark Lord, probably sneakier and more manipulative than ever after succeeding so well the shady world of politics that he called the Minister 'Rufus'; it was still music to the ears of a fallen star. He might have no money or possessions anymore, but he had a friend.

He supposed that this was the moment where men of more demonstrative nationalities might hug or playfully punch each other, or females might cry or kiss one another on the cheek. As it was, two English males were rather limited in responses. They both cleared their throats.

"You're a good man, Severus," Lucius said quickly, staring at the horizon. There was an embarrassed silence.

"More tea?" said Snape.

…SS…

It had been alarming to walk into that wretched little place of Narcissa's and find Lucius being so thoroughly miserable. She had made a quick call to say that he looked a bit despondent as she left, and ask if Severus would mind popping in just to check up on him, if he could spare the time. The sight of the humble house had probably been too much, too soon. Severus had made numerous offers of help to find a much nicer place. A pretty cottage, for example, or a nice flat in one of the Cotswold towns, but she seemed wary of becoming dependent on another man, after losing nearly everything with her husband's fall. Snape supposed he understood. And it was hardly worth the effort to set up a wonderful home on her own if a certain other matter in her life took its course…

He tried to push such thoughts to the back of his head, in case he betrayed anything to Lucius before the time was right. They obviously hadn't had chance to talk about that yet, which made Severus nervous. Lucius was still looking good, with a new vulnerable charm which was most appealing. He hoped Narcissa would not have some kind of blonde moment and threaten his plans by forgiving past distresses and falling in love with her husband for the second time. Snape liked the woman a lot, but he found himself fervently hoping that Lucius would find her new fat bottom repellent.

It was fortunate that Malfoy was conscious of the many favours which Snape had done him, as it would have been really rather a bore to spell them all out. Besides, he had no interest in destroying the last vestiges of his self-esteem by playing Lord Bountiful - Merlin only knew how often Severus had squirmed in the receiving end of pity. Better for him to be quietly aware that he was in Snape's debt, thus open to more subtle methods of persuasion later on, while maintaining that masterful dignity which Severus had always found so captivating. He had no interest in owning a pathetic imitation of the imposing personality who used to practically run the country by the judicious raising of a single manicured eyebrow over a long lunch. He wanted the real thing.

Severus began to wonder whether it would be better to woo him, providing treats which he had only dreamed of for years and his wife could no longer afford, or to strike before he had chance to find his feet, sweeping him off them instead. For all the chief law-enforcer knew, he could have cunning plans of his own. Bewildered though he may temporarily be, it must never be forgotten that the catalogue-model looks concealed a mind sharp enough to cut glass.

He would have to tread carefully, watching both Lucius and Narcissa for any sign of plots or schemes, either independently or together. It was absurdly easy to keep tabs on Narcissa, in public life or private, through some well-placed contacts. Watching Lucius would be no great hardship either. He had been doing it for decades now.

…LM…

Once Snape had been called back to work to sort out some new crisis, Lucius went inside and wandered around the house, indulging himself while no one was there to judge his actions. He touched soft fabrics, lounged in a comfortable chair, washed his face and hands in hot water then dried them with a thick, soft towel. He drank in smells he hadn't smelled in years - scented soap, flowers, herbs and - oh joy - real coffee! His rapture would have known no bounds had he actually known how to make a cup of it. He decided it was probably better not to try and overdo it on his first day out anyway, so he slipped the packet into his pocket and contented himself with taking a good deep sniff periodically.

In the late afternoon, he received an even bigger treat. Draco fire-called and, though reserved, seemed genuinely pleased to be able to speak to him. He assured his father that he would make time to visit him in person as soon as possible, but that little more than a few pleasantries were possible just then. As the young man began making his farewells, Lucius realised there was something he needed to say; that it wouldn't be enough, but he must say it regardless.

"Draco," he leaned closed to the fireplace, wishing that the dancing flames afforded a better view of the dear face he hadn't seen in eight years.

"Yes?" he was distracted now, mind already back on his professional life and not his more difficult personal one.

"I'm sorry," he said.

Draco looked at him with great curiosity, saying nothing.

"Thank you for speaking to me, I know you didn't have to," Lucius folded his arms across his chest as a hard lump formed in his throat, willing Draco not to scorn his weakness.

"Yes, I did," Draco answered softly, leaving a couple of seconds for the words to sink in, then became brisk almost immediately in the same way his mother had. "I really have to go now though. Smethwyk's old wound is acting up again and we've got some wet-behind-the-ears locum instead, if I don't head back now there'll be no end of madness. Take care, OK? Floo Mum or Severus if you need help."

Lucius sat happily in the garden until Narcissa came home at six.

They talked pleasantly, yet with a new reticence. Keeping to strictly safe topics, they discussed the truth behind events he had read in the paper, or about Draco, remaining so determinedly polite and poised that Lucius' face began to ache from using the same interested and understanding expression. By the time Narcissa began clearing away the dinner things - another chore she should never have had to learn - he was weary and drained, and heard himself asking if she minded his taking an early night. He couldn't blame her for the look of relief which she didn't manage to conceal, it had surely been almost as trying a day for her as it had for him. They wished each other goodnight from opposite ends of the small kitchen and he climbed the stairs.

…….

The bed was too comfortable. It was too wide, the sheets were too soft, the room was too quiet and too warm. He chuckled aloud in the darkness at the absurdity of his complaints, but they were the improbable reasons for his inability to sleep despite being bone-tired. He hadn't honestly expected to be welcomed back into his wife's bed, so there was no affront at being quartered in the tiny guest room, just that dizzying shock of being somewhere other than Azkaban he had felt while being marched through the Ministry.

He tossed and turned, thoughts racing through everything he had experienced since the disappearance of his toothbrush that morning, unable to fix on any one thing long enough to get a handle on it. For hours the strange scenes and his churning emotions rattled around so loudly inside his mind that he went so far as to try pressing his hands over his ears to hold them still. When that didn't work, he sat up and looked at the clock. Half past midnight, and he had been in bed since eight.

Dragging his protesting body upright, he decided that he may as well have a change of scenery, now that he was free to choose his comings and goings. The gloom of Azkaban had given him excellent night-vision, so it was relatively easy to find his way to the door and around the unfamiliar landing and stairs. Perhaps a glass of water from the kitchen would help calm him. He could even have ice in it, should he want some! Thinking back to the tepid and often cloudy water he had been used to, he suddenly felt that a cool, clear drink would be his last indulgence in a day of simple pleasures. He crept down the steps, taking care not to wake Narcissa with any loud creaks.

Presently he found that his precautions were unnecessary, as he heard her voice in the kitchen speaking to someone over the floo. He hesitated outside the door, not wanting to disturb her conversation, but his mouth watering for the drink he had just begun to crave. After a minute, his thirst won out and he decided to go in and leave as quickly as he could, apologising for the interruption. His hand was on the doorknob when something she said made him stop dead.

"Of course I still love him, he's my husband! You don't just lose twenty-five years of history like that - you of all people ought to understand!"

A man's voice murmured a response he was too far away to catch. Lucius wondered if she was talking to Draco.

"On the other hand, I can never forgive him for what he's done. Losing the house and the money and being laughed at in the street I could cope with, I had the mockery when Andromeda ran off with that muggle and I survived it then. No, what I will always remember, what I can never forget, even when I try to, is what he did to my son."

The man replied again but Lucius was too frozen with dread at the steel in her voice to try and hear the reply. Belatedly, he realised that she couldn't be speaking to Draco.

"Getting him involved in all that! Ridiculous! I could see they never stood a chance of winning the second time around. Voldemort was more beast than wizard, he had no clear plan, he didn't even stand for anything any more, just running around destroying. It was different back when he was a charismatic young rebel with a everything going for him, they might actually have achieved something, but what I heard of the later part…well, I know…with hindsight, but…yes, I suppose. They were in it up to their necks and there wasn't much choice for our generation, but Draco and the others didn't have the mark, they could…I know, I know, nothing's that simple…you're always so calm and rational…"

The undulating sound of the other speaker's interruptions washed over Lucius as he stood, feeling foolish and pathetic in the cotton pyjamas which he had found laid out at the foot of the guest bed. She felt all these things, yet still welcomed him back, brought him into her home - her home, not his. She came to fetch him, fed him and took care of him, despite this despair at the awful things he had done. Amazingly, she still loved his undeserving hide.

"No, I don't want that. I do love him, but I love you too. Much more. Lucius is my past, and I have a duty to him for the moment, but I can only keep going because I have you. I mean it, your love is the best thing that's happened to me in years and I thrive on it…"

A sudden sharp pain made Lucius realise he had stuffed his fist into his mouth to stifle the groan of horror which some deeper part of his soul was trying to emit. More fool him for believing she had been alone for eight years! Here was the reason for her reserved attitude. While he had been languishing in prison because of his foolish choices, Narcissa had found comfort in the arms of another man. He bit down harder, finding the feel of his teeth on his own knuckles strangely absorbing. If nothing else, it distracted him from the revoltingly soppy tone of voice his wife was using now as she addressed her lover.

"…miss you tonight, wish you could come over for snuggly-humps…hee hee, me too, Darlingheart…look at us, the odd couple, the widower and the jailbird's wife…never imagined…shall I see if I can get Severus to look after him tomorrow so I can come over to yours and show you just how much I wuv you…"

In spite of the bleeding fist in his mouth and the overall nausea at what he was hearing, Lucius felt some annoyance at having to be 'looked after' like some invalid. Then Narcissa uttered a word which robbed her husband of all ability to process thought, either rational or otherwise.

"…what would I do without you, my Darlingheart, my love, my own wonderful Arthur…"

…SS…

Shacklebolt's suggestion of a breakfast meeting the following day hadn't been very popular with the exhausted and hung-over MLE elite, Snape included. Naively, he had hoped that victory would bring with it a much-needed rest from the 24-hour readiness for anything which had coloured everyone's lives for almost a decade. It transpired that although the threat of personal assault or the end of the world as he knew it was greatly reduced, the amount of work had actually doubled as the process of clearing up began. Rufus had warned about making casual decisions about which wrongs they addressed and which got swept under the carpet, and Snape was going to listen. This was the man who had bravely led the country through war once before, only to find an ungrateful electorate had decided that a warrior who talked tough in a crisis was not necessarily the kind of man they wanted in charge of a peaceful society. He had barely lasted three months after Voldemort's first fall, the avuncular Fudge appealing much more to the new yearning by the masses for a quiet life.

They had hauled Scrimgeour out of retirement when things got serious again, and with no Malfoy to take charge of damage limitation with a campaign of nice dinners with the right people, Fudge had been jostled aside in favour of the old terrier with embarrassing ease. Severus had always maintained that he had no taste for politics, since his disastrous teenage dabble with what one leading academic had begun to refer to as Riddlism, yet he really hated the idea of leaving the important business to some of the hopeless cretins who amused themselves by playing at government. He had a lot of respect for Rufus, but was careful not to tie himself too closely with a man so clearly destined to watch history repeat itself.

The piles of paper all over Snape's personal study grew before his eyes as duplicates of reports being made all over the department materialised and slotted themselves into the correct files for his perusal. He supposed he ought to do one more hour of reading before bed, as Kingsley would be irritatingly well-informed at seven a.m. tomorrow. The man was either made of iron, or illegally using a Time Turner. Only a crusading Ravenclaw with such a mania for minutiae could possibly absorb so much pointless information. Well, Severus conceded, not always so useless, as time and again Shacklebolt had proven that the tiny details were often more important than the more generally documented facts. If anyone was capable of filling the soon-to-be-vacated ministerial boots, it was probably him. He might even break with tradition and make a decent job of it. Snape grimaced and got up to pour himself a brandy, deciding that if he was going to burn another night's worth of midnight oil, he deserved to treat himself to a little fuel too.

He was standing at the drinks cabinet when his alarm wards announced the arrival of more treat than he had bargained for.

A cloud of soot blew out of the fireplace as something large and coughing tumbled out and landed in an untidy heap on Snape's hearthrug.

"Good evening, Lucius," said Snape, outwardly calm, but thrilling inside at the sight of his intended all rumpled and sprawly and in his house!

"Merlin's teeth!" cursed Malfoy, struggling to his feet with a look of disgust on his dirty face. "You've got some fearsome security here, haven't you?"

"I am afraid that, in my position, I can't be too careful," Snape intoned, casting a discreet Scourgify on his guest before he walked soot all over the pristine cream carpet. "You are welcome here at any hour, naturally, but it seems rather late for visiting. I had imagined you to be rather tired by the day's events."

What Severus supposed to be irritation at his undignified entrance swiftly faded from Lucius' face, replaced for a second by dismay, then a controlled mask of general displeasure.

"Weasley," he said, tightly.

"Ah," murmured Snape. He poured out two glasses of brandy and held one out to Lucius, who took it and swirled it absently, inhaling the rich fumes while his thoughts strayed away. Severus was pleased that he had found out so quickly, but absolutely ecstatic that he had fled into Snape's arms on finding out. Well, he corrected himself, not exactly his arms, not yet, but he was in his living room, and that was a close enough to start with.

"You knew?" Lucius emerged from his reverie as it dawned on him that Snape had asked for no clarification.

"I did," he confirmed.

"Who else knows?" Lucius looked disgruntled.

"Most people do, I believe. Draco and Ronald had a rather…public altercation on the subject," he recalled the ridiculous occasion all too clearly, unfolding right in front of Skeeter, Lovegood and the entire chapter of the Yorkshire Witches Institute who had come down to London to publicise a charity calendar of themselves in the buff. Lucius looked up, interested by the mention of his son's name.

"Who won?" he asked.

"Miss Granger, I believe," Snape smirked briefly.

"Ah," said Lucius.

They drank brandy in silence, giving Snape the opportunity to study the other wizard further. He looked exhausted, with puffy dark circles underneath his grey eyes. The cheap pyjamas he wore weren't the most flattering articles either, but to Severus, Lucius was still the most attractive thing he had ever seen. It must be some kind of enchantment, he mused, that this fifty year old murderer, snob and bankrupt should still exert such an influence over him. There was no escaping it, however. The snake's fangs may have been removed, but he still held Severus in his thrall, hypnotised forever; but no longer just powerless prey.

"How long?" said Malfoy, draining his balloon and holding it out for a refill. Snape summoned the bottle and obliged, noticing that his guest had already slumped slightly in his armchair, unaccustomed to the effects of alcohol.

"Two years. One year of stealing furtive glances at each other across crowded rooms, then one of going at it like rabbits whenever they thought no one was watching," Snape abandoned subtlety, hoping for a reaction.

"What about the Weasley woman? Oh wait, I remember. Taken hostage then chopped into bits when her family didn't agree to the Dark Lord's terms, they said in the paper. Sounds like Macnair enjoyed himself," Lucius sank even lower as he neared the bottom of his second glass. "What were the terms? I forget now."

"The real reason wasn't in the Prophet," Snape recalled too much of that horrible time, in far too much detail. Molly had been fairly irritating on occasion, but her contribution to the cause had been absolutely invaluable and no one, not even the dam of seven redheaded menaces to society, deserved that kind of end. "Voldemort told the Weasleys that he would release her unharmed if they brought Potter to him. Of course, they had long envisioned some attack on the family in order to reach Potter and had planned for every eventuality. They refused to hand him over and bound, gagged and stunned the boy and locked him in the cellar to prevent any suicidal heroics (that part was my idea, of course). Voldemort waited for three weeks before he began sending little packages in the post." He shuddered. "That was almost six years ago now."

"I could've told him it was a lousy strategy," commented Lucius. "I can see the idea behind it, to use love as the method of their undoing, but 'slike chess, with Potter as the king. There was no way they would have let him be taken, it would be, y'know, instant game over."

"Well," Snape noticed Lucius begin to slur his words and was pleased. If there were too many things on his mind to let him sleep naturally, then drinking oneself unconscious was a good way to overcome the insomnia. Besides, a man who has just discovered that his wife has been having it away with a long-term sworn enemy in his absence is entitled to a drink. Or seven. "His operation really began to unravel without you or I as intelligent advisors. The last couple of years were just a mess of guerrilla atrocities and cat and mouse games all around Europe, there was no sensible planning behind his campaign of…"

"Can I shtay with you?" Lucius interrupted sharply.

Snape stopped and stared at Lucius, who was now swaying slightly. Pleased by the sudden fulfilment of phase one of his plan, but wary of things moving too quickly, he nodded with forced nonchalance.

"If you like," he shrugged. "Peggy can make up the spare room for you." This was a lie. The spare room had been made up ready for Lucius since the moment of his release.

"Is it wrong to run away from Narcissa with no warning?" Lucius frowned. "She'sh been so good, coming to fetch me and bringing me home. But she calls Weasley 'Darlingheart' and I don't think she really wants me there."

"You can have a long talk with her tomorrow, when you've sobered up and had chance to think about the future," Snape knew he was on unsafe ground here. Who could tell what complicated melange of emotion existed between a married couple who had been through so much together, then even more when apart? "I think you should definitely stay here for tonight, though, and get some sleep. You shouldn't go back to Narcissa's house in this state."

And I, he added privately, will not sleep a wink knowing that you, my beautiful Lucius, are lying asleep in my house, within a few short strides of me and my bed.

…LM…

Lucius was disorientated. Everything was wrong and it was far too much effort to investigate why, or what he ought to do about it. He felt warm and melty in a way that was most extra-ordinary, as though he were a candle which had been placed too close to the fire. It was not at all unpleasant, he decided as he lay wherever he was, yet it made him crave, as though there were something else he needed.

Someone had transformed the room into an enormous cradle, and though the rocking motion was very soothing, it made it rather dashed difficult to propel oneself in a straight line. Fortunately, Lucius was valiant, overcoming several malevolent attempts on the part of the floor to rise up unexpectedly and smack him in the knees or elbows, in order to go out and quest bravely for thingummy, you know, whatever you call the wossname that he needed. Yes, indeed. Jolly good.

…SS…

It never gets properly dark in London, since the sky glows orange from dusk 'til dawn with the tireless blare of muggle sodium lights. Some people fit out their homes with heavy curtains, or don fabric masks to try and hide from the reminder that they are but a small, insignificant creature caught in the sprawl of relentless civilisation, just one of the many millions over time to find themselves packed in claustrophobic density into this artificial place.

Others, like Severus Snape, are afraid of true darkness. The grey tones of the room allow him to distinguish between safety and potential danger. The shouts and sirens exploding against the background hum of the city reassure him that he is still alive to hear them, that he is here, in the London flat that comes with his job and the last seven years have not simply been a cruel dream. London is louder than a Yorkshire mill town, deafening when compared with the Highlands. He is finished with both locations.

This particular restless night, Snape finally fell into a doze at four, just as the dawn chorus of urban birds began in the magically proportioned garden behind his building. He dreamed of the tasks he had neglected the previous day, the things he needed to accomplish on the morrow and the wondrous expression on a pale, lined face as it was confronted with a standard chocolate biscuit. He was so enjoying the sight of dream-Lucius, that his super-sensitive reflexes took a short holiday and he only became aware of the intruder in his room as they entered his bed.

The burst of adrenaline kick-started his brain from fast asleep into full survival mode in an instant, his fingers closing around the handle of his wand before he had even manoeuvred his eyelids open. How had his wards failed? His assailant must truly be possessed of prodigious intelligence to get this far into one of the most secure locations in Wizarding Britain undetected!

The panic subsided slightly once he recognised the intruder. Lucius was either sleepwalking or drunk-walking or possibly both, apparently on a mission to get human contact. He burrowed under the bedclothes, making little hums and snuffles of contentment like a nesting animal when he located the warmth of Snape. An arm snaked around Snape's torso and he was trapped.

"Lucius," he said quietly. "What do you think you are doing?"

"Mmmnice," murmured Lucius.

"Lucius, wake up!" he hissed, rather more urgently. Lucius nuzzled his face into the side of the younger man's neck and let out a reverberating snore. Stubble scraped with a delicious roughness against Snape's collar-bone, setting off a chain reaction of little explosions through his nerve endings which made him give an involuntary twitch of desire, before he managed to hold his body perfectly still.

The maxim 'be careful what you wish for' presented itself inside Severus' head and he stiffened all over. This was everything he had ever dreamed of - Malfoy warm and mellow, holding him tightly - he ought to be in the fluffiest dominions of heaven. Fate had obviously decided that she had been too kind to him of late, however, and decided to revert to their former unhappy relationship, for here was his beloved, lying in his bed and in his arms but incoherent and not in control of himself. None of the things Severus desperately wanted to do would be remotely ethical or even legal while Lucius was in this state. The temptation to take advantage was so strong that he broke out into a sweat from the effort of trying to fight it. Oblivious, Lucius muttered and shifted even closer, pressing their bodies together in a way that made Snape want to scream.

Faced with a similar situation, the worthy Gryffindors he had worked alongside for most of the war wouldn't have needed to think twice. They would have de-camped to the sofa immediately and without rancour. Conversely, most Slytherins would have seized the day and then performed whatever obliviation spells were necessary afterwards. Not for the first time, Snape felt trapped between two mindsets - sneering at the wasted opportunity of the one while disapproving of the callousness of the other.

If only Malfoy didn't smell so good! There was no overpowering artificial scent of aftershave or cosmetics like the young muggle men he brought back from King's Cross' nocturnal meat market, just the honest sweat of a trying day and alcohol consumed a few hours ago. All very organic and personal and absolutely torturous to anyone who was trying to fight their arousal. Lucius made a soft purring noise in his sleep and Snape swore out loud.

What on earth was he going to do about this?

...LM...

Lucius wondered how the troll came to be standing on his head.

He did not recall reading anything in the paper to suggest that the huge, lumbering beasts had been drafted in to assist with the guarding of Azkaban, but perhaps it was not yet public knowledge. He was flailing an arm around, trying to knock it off, or at least draw some attention to his painful plight before the wretched thing crushed him to death, when his hand encountered a goblet, hovering in the air just next to him. No, not hovering, being held out towards him by a small, bony hand.

"Sir should drink this," said a flat, high-pitched voice.

"Guh?" managed Lucius.

"The master left me instructions to give this to you as soon as you awoke," the voice said again, sounding rather bored, as though it had more important things it would rather be doing.

Lucius took the goblet with a shaking hand and drank, only realising as the liquid swept through him like splintered ice, that he probably ought to have asked what it was. It soon shook off the troll, though, leaving him feeling fresh and well-rested.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes and realised with a jolt that he was not in his cell. The events of the previous day flooded back - his release, Draco, Narcissa, being cuckolded by that infernal Weasley and his flight to Severus. Severus, his saviour and his friend.

He smiled at that particular memory, remembering that the only positive thing about his unfortunate new life was being on such good terms with the Head of MLE, who may well be sexually attracted to him.

"You're a bit old for being on the game, aren't you?" the small voice interrupted his reverie. He looked over and saw a small house-elf regarding him critically with its arms folded across its chest. It was wearing a plain blue dress, so one had to assume it was a female.

"What do you mean, old?" Lucius bridled at being insulted by an elf. An elf which, he noted, was neither cringing nor eager to please, nor particularly keen to stay out of the way of humans. She leaned lazily against the bedside table and looked Lucius up and down in a way that made him uncomfortable.

"Most of the men I find in the master's bed are at least twenty years younger than you," there was a sneer in her voice. "I didn't think he went for silver trade. But you are still a bit blond, I suppose, he does like his long-haired blonds."

"Trade?" Lucius squawked, then cleared his throat and forced his voice into a calmer pitch when he noticed that he had made the window rattle slightly with uncontrolled magical ire. "I'll have you know that I am a perfectly…"

"Whatever," the elf waved a little hand dismissively. "At least you're a wizard, unlike most of them. I am under instructions to look after you all day until the master gets back. So, what do you want? Breakfast? A bath? You look like you need one."

"I…," Lucius bridled at yet another impertinence, until something else about his adversary struck him as being not quite right. "You don't speak like a house-elf, or act like one for that matter."

"I was given elocution lessons," the creature grimaced with distaste. "The master said that the grammar of my kind set his teeth on edge, so I had to go through weeks of lessons." The elf was openly sneering now in a rather familiar way.

"Are you a Snape family elf?" he asked, knowing that if anything could dampen the natural cheery and obsequious nature of an elf, it would be a lifetime working for Severus and his kind.

"Snape?" she shrieked, outraged. "That filthy half-blood spawn of a muggle and a blood-traitor? He wasn't born to be served by elfkind!" She suddenly sagged, apparently elf enough to realise that insulting the master was unforgivable, and walked with great reluctance to the doorway, screwed up her face in anticipation of great pain and slammed her fingers in the door. Naturally, Lucius did not speak elvish, but the subsequent stream of language was definitely not fit for polite society. She cradled her injured hand to her chest with a resentful expression and lapsed back into English. "I have worked for the Heads of Law Enforcement all my life, as did my forbears. We has…have always been proud to serve our country by serving its respected leaders, but they are usually a bit better bred than him. Brown ale, red sauce and fish suppers, for Merlin's sake!"

"And rent boys?" hazarded Lucius, mildly amused at some of Snape's more lower class habits which he had clearly taken pains to conceal from his fellow Death Eaters.

"Oh, no, that's actually quite normal for a politician," she replied seriously.

Finally, a long time after hearing the information, Lucius processed something the elf had revealed while he was busy taking offence at other aspects of their bizarre conversation. He looked around the room, perceiving a bookmarked paperback on the side-table, a grey dressing-gown hanging on the back of the door, a worn pair of leather slippers on the rug next to the bed, and a host of other small signs that this time he had not been consigned to a guest room.

"Am I in Snape's bed?" he asked, beginning to feel confused.

"Yes," said the elf, rolling her eyes sarcastically, as though he were a bit dim.

A shudder rippled through Lucius. He could remember a nightmare floo journey ending with a graceless tumble into the flat, then Snape offering him brandy, looking relaxed in just his white shirt and black trousers. Then…nothing. He delved around inside his own head, desperate to dredge up more recollection of the night before, to no avail. Looking down, he saw that he was wearing the pyjamas Narcissa had bought for him - or had she? Perhaps they were an old pair of Weasley's. The thought made him slightly nauseous and he refused to think about either of those two until his immediate situation began making more sense.

What had Snape done to him? The complete lack of any kind of memories suggested obliviation, which in turn made the strong suggestion of certain untoward things happening, which Snape did not wish for him to know about. He shifted slightly in the bed, trying to gauge whether any areas of him had sustained any damage, before realising that a man as clever as Severus Snape would have removed all evidence of the act. Lucius rubbed his eyes again and quietly asked the house-elf to come back later, as he found he needed to be alone.

He remembered the teasing of his associates years ago, as they thrashed out the long-standing joke that Snape fancied Lucius. He remembered the care and attention Snape had always paid to Narcissa and Draco, and to Lucius himself, always being there to smirk at his jokes or to assist with the less glamorous aspects of serving the Dark Lord, leaving Lucius free to enjoy himself. It became clear later on that some of these attentions - the errands to Knockturn Alley, the passing on of messages to wizards sympathetic to the cause - had been quests for information to pass on to Dumbledore. However, there was no reason for him to stay close to Lucius now that everything was over. The touching declaration of friendship when there was nothing to be gained from such a humble friend, the negotiation of his release, the way he had drunk in every aspect of Lucius' expression during their conversations, all of these things were definitely more personal. If Rastaban and co. had been right, and Snape had been attracted to Lucius since he was little more than a boy, he could hardly blame him for taking advantage of his own new-found power and Lucius' dire predicament in order to claim what he had wanted all along. In fact, he had practically handed himself over on a platter.

Sadly, the majority of his generation were aware of the effect that brandy had on the Malfoy constitution, there being a little rhyme on the subject which some wag had invented after a particularly heavy lads' night out ending in a brothel not long after his marriage. It would be perfectly understandable if Snape had plied him with alcohol in order to seduce him. In fact, had the roles been reversed, it would be the exact course of action Lucius would have taken.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, accepting that he had probably been shagged last night by that greasy little oik Severus Snape, who had done Merlin-knew-what to his helpless body, then erased his memory of the whole event. The anticipated wave of disgust and anger failed to materialise. Instead, he found his thoughts turning to his first sight of the man since leaving Azkaban, radiating success and authority in the opulent office, then finding him dressed down in his own home in the middle of the night, all glittering dark eyes and languid movements. He imagined those long fingers touching him, awakening flesh that had been starved of gentle touch for too many long, lonely years. The silken voice could have whispered tender praise in his ear, conveying the bottled-up admiration he had been unable to express since his awkward childhood, all the while performing the depraved and delicious things he had probably been practising on all those blond rent boys in this very room.

It took Lucius a few minutes of pondering to realise that his overriding emotion was disappointment over having no recollection of the event.

…SS…

The breakfast meeting lived up to his expectations of tedium, with Shacklebolt being frankly unbelievably bright and chirpy for that time in the morning. Snape was used to functioning with little or no sleep, however, so merely drank enough espresso to make his hands tremble and proceeded as normal. At eight, they were interrupted by an urgent floo call from Narcissa. Severus spoke to her in a private room.

"Severus, I just got your owl," she looked tired and older without her make up. "Is he all right? Is he angry?"

"He took it much better than I thought he would," Snape said evenly. "Though he had been rather overwhelmed by everything that happened yesterday, so I couldn't say for certain. I shall advise him to speak to you as soon as it is possible to do so, I'm sure there are many things you need to discuss…"

"You don't mind him staying with you until he gets settled?" Narcissa interrupted. "He's my responsibility really, but if he's going to be difficult I would much rather he wasn't staying in my house. Arthur insists I am always welcome at the Burrow, but I think that will only exacerbate matters for now. Besides, I know you will take good care of him."

Despite being a grown man with the ability to direct battles and successfully hoodwink some of the cleverest wizards in history, Severus found himself blushing. Narcissa smiled knowingly.

"I'm right, aren't I?" she asked, with a twinkle.

"I don't know what you mean, madam," he answered, not as smoothly as he had hoped.

"Don't be silly, Severus. You've always wanted him, that much has been blatantly obvious since we were still at school, to me at least. This is your best chance and I know you're planning to take it. I should feel so much better about marrying Arthur if I knew that Lucius had you," she gave a dry laugh which sent a tiny cloud of ash into the room. "That sounds as though I'm giving you permission to sleep with my husband, while I wash my hands of him, doesn't it?"

"Narcissa…" he paused, not knowing what to say. He had never imagined this kind of discussion with the woman whose position he had envied so vehemently. The conversation was too surreal. It was an excellent opportunity to find out about something which had been niggling unpleasantly at the back of his mind since he began this plot. "If Lucius asked you for a second chance, if he decided that he still loved you and wanted to try and atone for all the mistakes he made, would you be ready to give it another go?"

She sighed deeply, rubbing a hand across her brow before answering.

"No," she said firmly, but with a hint of sadness. "Lucius will always be dear to me, but this marriage is dead. He almost killed my son, and I love Arthur." She looked up sharply, with the rare half-smirk which was the only characteristic she had in common with her late sister and normally took great pains to hide. Looking Snape right in the eyes, she asked, "Was that what you were waiting for?"

Snape looked away, wishing he hadn't drunk so much coffee and he could be calmer and less twitchy. When he didn't respond, Narcissa smiled broadly.

"Take what is yours, Severus, Merlin knows you've earned him."

…LM…

The lunchtime meeting with his soon-to-be ex-wife went better than he imagined. Now that he had been given the chance to acclimatise to the strange new world which had evolved during his time in Azkaban, he was able to look at Narcissa and see a very different woman from the one he had married. Superficial appearances aside, it was obvious that the chasm created between them by eight years of very tough, but very different experiences would be impossible to cross.

She was stronger than him now, independent, a survivor. Eight years ago she had slipped from the top of the tree to become the lowest of the low, yet through her own determination, she had inched her way back to respectability, making some solid if rather unglamorous connections, and all by relying on her own skills.

Lucius was aware that he had nothing to offer her. Subtly sweeping his gaze from her thickened ankles to her wobbly bottom, he realised that he probably wouldn't even be able to sleep with her. Even if she wanted him to, which, judging by the glow that spread over her face every time she mentioned Weasley, she did not.

"Oh dear," she sighed, picking at her short fingernails until Lucius noticed for the first time that she wasn't wearing any rings. "After all the pomp and fanfare of our wedding, it seems rather sad to end everything with a quiet conversation, just between the two of us."

"Would you rather throw a party?" asked Lucius, able to crack a smile. "Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy cordially invite you to their divorce - breakfast, ceremony and champagne reception. Strictly black tie, carriages at midnight."

"Embossed of course," she joined in. "On white card, no, cream. Goodness, I don't know what the convention would be. Grey?"

"Black, one would suppose," he joked. "With broken gold rings in each corner."

"And little cherubs with clipped wings…Oh shit, Lucius, I'm sorry," she pressed a handkerchief to her face as her voice cracked. "You do understand I don't do this lightly? That I have thought it over?"

He instinctively moved to comfort her, putting an arm around her shoulders in the same way, he realised with some bitterness, that he used to do after upsetting her with his selfishness in their younger days. The marriage had been full of these little flurries of tears and guilt, either due to the Dark Lord's insistence that his followers put him above all other concerns, or his liaisons with other men. No matter how well he tried to cover his tracks over the latter, she would always find him out and upset herself over it. They stayed in the same position for a long time, just hugging, saying goodbye.

Eventually, Lucius' knee began to stiffen uncomfortably so he straightened up.

"Weasley treats you well, does he?" It was the first coherent sentence which came to mind, but he found that, once it had been said, he was actually acutely concerned about the answer.

"Yes, he's a dear," Narcissa assured him. "He pampers me and takes such good care..." She stopped short as though thinking better of whatever she had been about to say - he suspected some comment about receiving more attention than she had been used to, or some other indirect criticism of his inadequacies as a husband. There was a brief silence.

"I am sorry, Narcissa," he said at last, feeling as he had during his conversation with Draco, that words were neither expressive nor intense enough to convey how utterly he regretted his stupidity.

"Can't be helped," she said briskly, standing and smoothing down her skirt as a declaration that the emotional moment had now passed. "We've done rather well to survive at all. Look at poor Molly and my sisters. And the young Finnegan boy doesn't even know that he's a human being, let alone his own name. We have our health, our son and a man each to care for us, what do we need piles of gold for?"

"Very well said," Lucius supposed that he had been wallowing rather self-indulgently. "But, when you say 'a man each'…"

He flinched back at the force of the scowl she directed at him.

"Don't be a fool, Lucius," she hissed. "You know to whom I refer. He's your best hope for a decent future after everything that's happened and there are many who would give their right arm for an opportunity like this. If your heart's not in it then listen to your head. He's on the up, Scrimgeour's going down, and with the right support behind him he could have it all." She softened when he looked suitably admonished, lowering her voice to add gently: "He loves you, Lucius. Bella and the Clearwater girl nearly did him in five years ago and the only thing he talked about in his delirious agony was you. Don't waste that."

…SS…

Occlumency was a useful trick to know in everyday life, not just when engaged in deadly espionage games with the ruthlessly bad or the ruthlessly good. Severus used it to banish any thoughts of Lucius distracting him from the important government meetings which were dragging on all day. He brought down his shields around the conversation with Narcissa and all its implications, locking everything away where they could not do any damage. At his level, it would be really unacceptable to miss a crucial fact or a nuance of tone and stop being one step ahead of the game, just because his brain was dwelling on other matters. The art of politics was no different from potion-making, or teaching for that matter. All one needed to do was remain alert enough to anticipate the next development. A new faction, a sudden change of consistency or a dungbomb flying between classroom enemies; none of these things happened out of the blue.

The working day finally ended and Severus, his neck aching and tired from being too alert for too long, flooed home, where the lovely Lucius ought to be waiting for him. He gave a little grin as he allowed Narcissa's parting words out of their mental box. She had urged him to take what was his. With a bit of luck, tonight he would set events in motion so that eventually, he could do just that.

Recognising their creator, the stringent wards caught Snape as he zoomed into the fireplace, depositing him with care, clean and upright, back into his house. There, he was greeted with an entirely unforeseen sight. An unbelievable manifestation awaited him in his own sitting room and it was all he could do not to faint with shock.

…LM…

Lucius had achieved great deal in a single day. He had awoken to find that having been carnally molested by Severus Snape was something desirable, rather than despicable, and found himself longing for a repeat performance. Preferably while conscious this time. At noon, he had become the first of his esteemed house since the arrival of the Conqueror's Chief Warlock, Guillaume 'Sans Merci' de Malfoi, in England in 1066 to agree to a divorce. His family's traditional methods of terminating an unhappy marriage were easier, but tended to terminate other things besides.

It had taken very little effort to win over Peggy once she had discovered his identity. Delighted to have a genuine pure-blood of impeccable lineage in her midst, the elf set about bathing, massaging and manicuring him, performing treatments involving magical mud and heated rocks, pins in his eyebrows and potions in his hair, and generally fussing over him until he was a boneless lump of warm, clean goo. It was glorious.

Sighing happily as she dried between his toes with a lavender-scented towel of such softness that he could barely feel it, Lucius forced his brain to wake up. Narcissa had implied that Lucius' only chance of a decent life within Wizarding society would be with Snape's help and, though it plagued him to admit it even in private, Narcissa was usually - no, actually, always - right. Moreover, Snape was obviously very keen on Lucius, lusting after him or possibly even in love. Long ago, Lucius would have set his sights on far more attractive people than Snape. As he matured, so had his arrogance and power, so that by his early forties, just before his life had come crashing down about his ears, he had discovered that a wonderfully large number of witches and wizards were desperate to get a piece of his action. Back then, he had no need of Severus other than as a clever Death Eater colleague, in a fine position to mentor Draco in all those tedious little fatherly duties which he was too important a man to waste his time on.

It was possible that his good taste had wilted along with his fortune over the last eight years, but he had never paid attention to the intriguing details of Snape's manner and appearance which were obvious to him now, only the large ugly nose and the petulant scowl. Both these attributes and his morgue-chic skin tones were less prominent than his good points to his fifty year old self. The more likely explanation for his sudden awareness of the beauty of tar-black eyes against pale skin and the attractiveness of flawless deportment was that now, Snape had power. Power could not be conjured by spa treatments or faked with a glamour. It was a force all its own, and one which Lucius had always sought with the determination some people focussed on drink or recreational potions.

Lucius wanted to have a future. Severus was in the best position to provide one. Severus wanted Lucius. Lucius was growing enthusiastic about being had. There was no need for matters to become complicated. Snape would get an intelligent consort whose manners and breeding could only be an asset in the exalted circles where he now moved, and one he had been attracted to for no small length of time. Lucius would get his only chance at rehabilitation into society, along with a home, food and a human touch. It was perfect.

"Peggy," he addressed the elf, frowning as something occurred to him. "I have nothing to wear."

"I've washed your pyjamas, Master Malfoy," she indicated a folded pile of dull cotton quite inadequate for his purposes. He raised an eyebrow and leaned forward conspiratorially.

"I think you can do better than that for a wizard like me," he suggested, persuasively. She smirked and pulled him to his feet, wrapping him in a bathrobe and tugging him towards Snape's room.

"The master has a rather limited selection," she sniffed with disdain as she tugged open the wardrobe doors. "The items he does possess are of fine quality, though mostly black, unfortunately. I am certain we will find an adequate outfit."

Ten minutes later, Lucius was standing in front of a full-length mirror, delighted to see his whole body clearly again without the sepia hues of prison coffee to distort the picture. What he saw was not too bad, he reflected. His hair was looking healthy and blonder than it had any right to be, thanks to Peggy's efforts. He was still too pasty, but had refused outright to take any of those dreadful tanning potions which made men his age look like varnished tangerines. Instead, he had chosen what he suspected to be Severus' best dress robes, handsomely cut in steel grey (to draw attention to his eyes and away from his skin), worn over a pair of black trousers and a high-collared white shirt. Disturbingly, they fit almost perfectly, since Snape had gained a little weight and Lucius had lost some thanks to the nightmare of prison food. Lucius still had a height advantage of a couple of inches, but as Snape had always liked his cloaks a bit too billowy and his sleeves a bit longer than was strictly necessary, Peggy had few alterations to make.

"Master Malfoy! You looks a million galleons!" she lapsed into the more traditional behaviour of her species and bounced up and down with excitement.

"Do you think Severus will like it?" It was rather plainer than Lucius was used to, and he wasn't quite sure where to put his hands without his beloved cane.

"Oh, yes! Master will think you very tasty!" she squealed.

"I think you mean 'tasteful'," he corrected her kindly.

"No," she beamed. "I don't."

"Oh, well, good," he supposed that was the whole point. If he was going to become Snape's long-term partner, he would have to keep his interest. There were many others who would love to be in this position, Narcissa had said, and presumably some of them were younger or a better proposition for a successful wizard than a poverty-stricken has-been like Lucius Malfoy. The simple, unadorned look might be best for appearing humble and in need of rescuing.

The floo flared in the next room and Peggy declared that the Master was home, vanishing with a pop to finish the cleaning, or whatever task she had been neglecting in favour of indulging Luicus. He drew back his shoulders, straightened his collar and strolled calmly through the door.

It was an immensely satisfying moment. Snape's habitually guarded expression melted as his eyes swarmed up and down Lucius' body and his jaw fell open.

"How was your day at work, Severus?" Lucius asked, pouring as much concern into his tone as he could without sounding insincere, deliberately lingering on the sibilant name like a whispering lover. He felt even more gratification when Snape remained incapable of speech, standing in the same position, just gawking at him. Lucius glanced down at the dress robes as though noticing them for the first time. "I hope you don't mind me borrowing these. It's rather shaming to admit that my only set of clothes is still at Narcissa's house. If you prefer, I can take them off…"

"Yes," growled Snape, with a feral look in his eye, before managing to break the trance he had been in. He visibly shook himself and cleared his throat. "I mean, no, of course I don't mind. Help yourself to anything in this house."

The growl and the mesmerised moments had been enough to convince Lucius that Narcissa was right and, for that matter, so was Rastaban. He prowled towards Snape, his long-buried Malfoy confidence oozing reassuringly to the surface as his prey paralysed before him. He stopped when his face was inches away from the hooked nose and dropped his voice to a murmur.

"Anything?" he breathed.

Snape nodded, looking as though he was keeping his mouth from falling open again with the only the most strenuous effort of will.

"Even you?" Lucius leaned closer still, able to see the peculiar shine on the skin of the scar, to smell coffee and mints on his breath and - for the first time ever - to see the slight nuance of shade which marked the difference between his irises and pupils.

"If you want," Severus whispered back, the rapid dilation of said pupils belying his casual words.

"I do want," Lucius purred, closing the negligible gap between them with a kiss.

…SS…

It was far too soon for this, of course, but Snape knew that even if he tried to stop the kiss, it would not be possible. Lucius was more stunning than ever, wearing his clothes and strutting like the irresistible young dandy he had been when Snape first fell in love with him; polished and groomed and completely bloody delicious. Snape had lost the upper hand for a while there, not expecting to come home to his lifelong fantasy - well, the opening scenes of it anyhow. A few seconds into the searing hot kiss, however, he realised that Lucius was far more needy than he was, which made sense when one remembered the length of time he had been alone in a box of cold stone.

Lucius whimpered as he devoured Snape's mouth like a starving man, too enflamed to care about the occasional clash of teeth, the unappetising noises or the need to breathe. Arms wrapped around Snape's waist and squeezed until it was almost uncomfortable, as Lucius tried to get as much of his surface area flush with the other man as physiologically possible. It was heavenly, intoxicating and the kind of kiss Severus had longed for all his life, but soon the edges of his vision begin to blur from lack of oxygen as Lucius attempted to suck out his soul like some gorgeous travesty of a dementor. His lungs were aching before self-preservation managed to overcome the demands of both Malfoy and his own libido enough to pull away and snatch a gulp of air.

"Severussss," Lucius moaned once his tongue became redundant, his voice so low and gravely he may have been possessed by some rapacious spirit. Deprived of Snape's lips, he found his jaw instead, kissing and sucking for dear life in a way which rapidly evaporated any lingering thoughts the politician may have nurtured about taking it slowly.

"Wait, are you certain about this?" he tried to detach Lucius for long enough to look him in the face, but when he finally succeeded in forcibly yanking him back by his hair, the grey eyes were out of focus and smouldering so passionately that he decided he really didn't need a verbal answer.

…LM…

Lucius couldn't believe he had gone for eight years without this feeling. The world was warm and fuzzy as he lay in a sated doze, cocooned in softness and luxuriating in the sensations his body was relaying to him in the aftermath of ecstasy. His lips were swollen, his lower back throbbed and there was stubble burn all over his face and indeed, most of the rest of him. He felt too dazed and decadent to bother opening his eyes. He was in bed and partially draped over Severus, his mind replaying the various causes of his satisfying minor injuries over and over, so there was really no call to be reconnect with the outside world anyway.

Turning his head, he found his face was resting on some hairy area of Snape, which smelled very pleasant. He drifted back to sleep until a while later, when two low voices obviously trying hard not to wake him, woke him.

"…no, not that one. The purple one, yes, that's it. Can you pour a few drops into my hand? He's on my other arm and I don't want to disturb him."

"Are you hurt, Master?"

"My neck is just a bit stiff from spending the later part of last night on the sofa, that's all. There, much better."

There was something significant in that exchange which he ought to remember, but it was rather more effort than he was prepared to make at that moment. The voices continued in such light whispers that he had to strain to hear the next words.

"Master?"

"What is it, Peggy?"

"I like this one. Can we keep him?"

There was a pause, during which Lucius felt the weight of two gazes on his face. Reluctantly, he raised one eyelid very slightly.

"I see no reason why not, Peggy," he answered. Snape's face relaxed into a genuine smile at that, an expression which Lucius realised he had never seen on the younger man's face in all the years he had known him. The edges of his sleepy eyes crinkled and he showed a lot of uneven teeth in a rather goofy grin which rose above the end of the long nose on either side. The silly aspect it leant Snape's face was probably the reason why few people got to see what happened when the impassive mask was relaxed. Lucius lifted his head so he could get a better view of what was suddenly a very beautiful sight, squinting in the odd gloom which passed for darkness in London, but the daft grin snapped off as Snape saw him staring and the peculiar feeling of benediction was finished.

"Would you like me to stay too, or is it just the elf being a blood-snob?" It was only polite to ask, though from the feel of cool hands sliding over his body, Lucius already believed knew the answer.

"We would both like you to stay," Severus kissed him on the cheek, then the lips. "Though for two entirely separate reasons."

"Then I shall stay," Lucius announced, earning another joyful uninhibited flash of teeth.

They made love again, more slowly this time, savouring the tastes and touches which crazed desire had made them hurtle through at first. This was nothing like fumbling with the kept boys with whom Lucius had indulged his left-handed appetites while he was married. Severus was tender and almost reverent in every gesture, putting care into each brush of lips on skin and softness into every squeeze, until Lucius found he was almost climaxing from the adoration alone.

If this was the opening stage of his new life, then he could make no complaint. Within two days he had gone from being a hopeless disgrace, bankrupt and forgotten as he languished in prison as the unheeding world rushed by outside; to the pampered lover of one of the most powerful wizards in the country. The loss of the Manor and his wife's defection to the Weasley oaf already weighed less heavily on his heart, now that things were shaping up so nicely here.

The feel of Snape's hands and voice had been every bit as thrilling as they had promised to be. Wholly unexpected had been the strange warmth in his chest on seeing that foolish toothy smile. Lucius found that he wanted to see it again.

Often.

…….

The End.