Lucius felt his heart sink into his stomach. He was frozen in place, unable to speak, unable to move, unable to think.
This means Alice is dead.
His legs felt numb, but he managed to stumble forward. He needed to get inside, even though he feared what he would see – or else he would convince himself that Alice was alive and then he would drive himself mad…
He flung the door open and stumbled in.
There was no blood, but that was hardly a surprise. The killing curse didn't leave blood, and neither did the Cruciatus curse, which would surely have been what Bellatrix was using if she was trying to get information out of the Longbottoms…
"Alice?" Lucius called out, trying to keep his voice calm and steady.
A side table was overturned, the vase of flowers that had been on it smashed on the ground. It was sickening.
Then he heard movement.
He drew out his wand swiftly, his heart beating quickly. If there was a Death Eater still here, then he would have heard Lucius calling for Alice…
But no Death Eater appeared.
The door to the parlour swung open slowly and Lucius saw Alice standing there.
For a moment, he thought it was too good to be true. He thought that he was looking at a ghost or that his imagination was playing tricks on him, but Alice stood as solid as anyone in the doorway.
She didn't respond, didn't look at him. Her eyes were unfocussed and she was staring into space.
Her lips parted, but no words came out and she still didn't look at Lucius. He reached out tentatively to touch her hand and she didn't even move, didn't acknowledge him at all…
"Alice, can you hear me?"
When she still made no response, he moved into her line of vision and grabbed her shoulders, shaking her roughly. "Alice!"
She let out a wordless cry, pulling backwards and flinging her arms up over her head, and that was when Lucius knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
She tripped as she stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, curling up into a ball. In the parlour behind her, Lucius could see Frank, sitting on the floor with his legs straight out in front of him like the grotesque limbs of a rag doll, his body hanging limply against the edge of the couch.
"She doesn't look so nice like this, does she?"
Lucius whirled around, raising his wand, and saw Bellatrix standing behind him, her wand already out and trained on his chest.
"If you try to fight me," she said calmly, "I'll kill you. I knew you'd come here to see your pretty little mistress – you probably thought that she'd be dead, didn't you? If you knew what we put her through, you'd wish she was…"
"What did you do to her?" Lucius snarled.
Bellatrix let out a small laugh.
"Do you know, Lucius," she asked, "what happens when you hold the Cruciatus Curse on someone long enough?" She was smiling, her eyelids lowered and an expression of profound pleasure on her face. "They break, Lucius, they break. You can see it happen… one moment they're screaming and fighting and begging and the next moment they're just limp…"
"You tortured them!"
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I did exactly that. And all for naught…" Her face clouded. "They didn't know anything…"
"Why did you do it if they didn't know?" Lucius cried, his voice thick with agony. He wanted to kill Bellatrix, but her wand was still trained on him and he knew from all too much experience that she could best him in a fight.
"My God, you're thick, Lucius," sneered Bellatrix. "Surely you never thought that it's just coincidence that I happened to come to the Longbottoms? Of all the Aurors I could have chosen…"
"I had to take revenge on my sister's behalf, didn't I?" Bellatrix looked past Lucius at Alice, who was still quivering on the ground. "I couldn't just let her husband's lover go unscathed…"
"You did this for- revenge? On her?" Lucius drew back, revolted.
"One could say I was… killing two birds with one stone," Bellatrix told him. The look on her face was insufferable, far too sweet and self-satisfied, and she Disapparated before Lucius could lunge at her and shake the smile from her face.
The trial was a misery. Lucius sat at the back of the courtroom and watched Bellatrix, Rodolphus, Rabastan and Barty – the pale boy who had come out of the house with them – being sentenced to the life sentence in Azkaban that they deserved. But even as the sentence was proclaimed and they were led off by the Dementors to their dreadful fate, Lucius could feel no gratification. It didn't matter what happened to them. Alice was gone.
Narcissa did not go to the trial, which was just as well. Lucius preferred to be away from his wife. He could not blame her for what had happened to Alice – not logically – but he didn't want to look her in the eye, knowing that it was her sister who was responsible for Alice's fate. And Bellatrix had done it for Narcissa's sake…
But it didn't happen because of Narcissa. It's not her fault.
Don't try to blame anyone else.
It's all because of you.
You're the reason Alice is dead.
The voice in Lucius's head, berating him and telling him that it was because of him that Alice's mind was gone, was all he could hear through the trial.
The voice was the reason that, as soon as court was dismissed, Lucius went to St. Mungo's Hospital.
"I'm here to see Alice Longbottom," he told the welcome witch, who was sitting behind a desk, toying with her hair and not looking at any of the visitors.
"Permanent damage ward, spell damage, fourth floor," she told him, not looking up at him, which was a relief. The last thing Lucius needed was to be recognized. He gave her a small, tight smile, then headed upstairs.
It seemed like an endless climb, and with every step, Lucius could only think that it would be so much easier to just turn back. He could go back home to Narcissa and try to not think about Alice anymore. She was gone, after all – she wouldn't recognize him if he saw her, so what was the point?
But he couldn't.
He couldn't make himself turn back. He could only continue up flight after flight of stairs until he was standing in front of a locked door with Permanent Damage on it.
The door was opened by a smiling witch with a mass of bright, fair curls. Her face was round (like Alice's) and she looked quite happy, which was more than Lucius would have been able to manage if he had been the one there. It was almost eerie how cheerful and innocent she appeared. Lucius wanted to her look solemn, haunted – she had seen what happened to Alice. How could she feel anything but the most profound misery?
"Hello," she said brightly. "Can I help you?"
"Y- yes," he said. It was the first time he could recall stammering in a long time – stammering was not something that a man as collected as Lucius would often do. "I'm here to see Alice Longbottom."
The smile slipped from her lips.
"Oh…" she said softly, her eyebrows drawing together in a gentle, concerned frown. "Are you sure?"
She hesitated, then nodded slowly and opened the door a little wider.
"She's in here," she said quietly. "Probably sleeping, so don't…" Her voice trailed off as Lucius stepped past her, transfixed by the sight of the ward.
There were five beds, all made up with crisp white sheets and lined so neatly against the far wall. Three of them were empty. Two of them were occupied.
Alice and Frank.
Frank's eyes were closed and his chest rising and falling in a slow and steady rhythm. Lucius could only assume that he was asleep, but he spared him only a glance before looking to Alice.
Her eyes were wide open. She was staring at the ceiling.
"Alice," the witch said, moving over to stand beside her and touching her arm lightly. "You have a visitor, dear, isn't that lovely? Someone's come to see you… that's nice of them, isn't it?"
Don't talk to her like she's a child, Lucius wanted to say. She's an Auror, she's a talented witch, she isn't a little girl who needs to be babied! Talking to her like that is only going to make things worse!
But he controlled himself and moved slowly to stand beside Alice's bed.
She didn't look at him. Her eyes were still trained upon the ceiling.
Lucius glanced at the witch, forcing a politely sorrowful look, something like what he might have worn if Alice had been a distant cousin or someone who worked with him instead of the woman who he would have gladly given up his life for. "I wonder if you might mind giving us a bit of privacy," he said, and he made it clear in his tone that it was an order, not a request.
The witch nodded, the cheery smile returning to her face. "I'll just step outside. If you need anything, all you need do is open the door…"
"Thank you," he said coolly, and waited until she was gone before he looked back at Alice.
Her eyes were wide, glassy and empty, completely devoid of the spark and emotion that he had grown used to seeing in her. It was uncanny, like looking into the face of a corpse.
He might as well have been looking into the face of a corpse.
It might have been easier for him, really, if Bellatrix had just killed Alice. Then, at least, the hope would have been entirely gone. Lucius would not have been able to hold out that tiniest, maddest little spark of hope that Alice might still be in there somewhere.
He leaned over her, trying to get into her line of vision. He could see his reflection in her eyes, her once beautiful, bright, dark eyes. It was like looking into a mirror.
If only he stared deep enough, he wished that he might be able to find Alice behind them, but he could only see his own reflection.
"Alice…" he whispered.
She blinked but did not acknowledge him. Her lips parted just slightly and Lucius's heart leapt, but then they closed again and she didn't make a single sound.
"Do you blame me for this, Alice?" he hissed, aware that his voice was harsh but unable to soften it. "Do you blame me for not helping you?"
As if she could answer.
"I should have," he said bitterly. "I should have gone down and fought… I didn't realize… I thought it was just Bellatrix there, I thought it would be all right…"
Still no response. Her eyes didn't even flicker towards him, her lips didn't move, all he could do was stare into her blank, dark mirrors of eyes.
Perhaps it was a trick of the light, perhaps a trick of his reflection, but Lucius looked as though he was crying.
He did not cry.
He would not cry over her. He would not cry over anyone. Weakness was unacceptable and tears would do no good.
But it was so difficult to look into her eyes and see that his reflection was the only thing in them.
So he didn't look. He turned away from her and left the ward without saying anything more because there was nothing that he could say. He went home to Narcissa, just as he had thought he would and tried to put the whole experience from his mind.
But he should have known that it would be impossible.
Narcissa never spoke of Alice again – which came as the most profound of reliefs to Lucius – but when he lay in bed with her, he could only ever think of Alice and what might have happened if he had done something