He stretched and turned onto his side. After a moment, he raised a hand and wandlessly spelled the nearest window open. The sea breezes were always best this time of day. The curtains billowed and his skin was blessed with the fragrant ocean air; not for the first time, Lucius wondered why he hadn't left the cold dreariness of England behind sooner.
He was still drowsy and today there was no reason to hurry out of bed. In fact, most days were like that. He did have an appointment here or there, a dinner with Draco and family, but overall his schedule was laughably clear. That was exactly how he wanted it.
With nothing pressing on his mind and the room sunny and warm, he quickly fell back into a light sleep. Lucius didn't know how much time had passed when next he opened his eyes, but he did know that something wasn't quite right. He sat up and scanned the room.
Sure enough, a robed wizard stood near the foot of the bed, arms crossed and wand out. The robes were black and embroidered with a golden M that was all too familiar. This man, whoever he might be, was an Auror.
Lucius felt irritation rise within him, but he quelled it. He had learned long ago that there was no use in allowing himself to be bothered by these people who still believed that they could interrupt his life at any moment to satisfy some outrageous need for vengeance. At least this one had not pulled him bodily from the bed or spelled him awake with a gush of cold water.
He debated what to say for a moment and settled on a sardonic, "May I help you?"
"You need to come with me, Mr. Malfoy," the Auror responded. His voice was deep and commanding.
"And you are?"
"Auror Ellsworth Bolden, sent on the authority of the Ministry of Magic, London, England."
Lucius appraised him. He was a man of rank, that much he could tell. He was also likely a man who knew how to get what he wanted, and wouldn't hesitate to rough up an uncooperative opponent. Yet he stood there, still, calm, his presence neither threatening nor aggressive.
Lucius asked, "Am I under arrest?"
"No," Bolden said. "But you need to come with me."
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Ellsworth Bolden that he didn't need to go anywhere, but something stopped him. This was a curious approach, one the Ministry had never used with him. It was entirely too civilized. In fact, it almost seemed as though they were…asking him to accompany the Auror to the Ministry without really asking.
Lucius stared at the Auror long enough to unnerve him. Bolden shifted on his feet and tapped his wand against his thigh. It was either a nervous gesture or a reminder that he was authorized to use force. Aurors always were, when it came to Death Eaters - even those who had long ago renounced such beliefs. So why wasn't Bolden using force?
"May I dress?" he asked cautiously.
"Certainly," was the cool response.
His eyes narrowed slightly. Bolden was difficult to read. In spite of himself, Lucius did not hate him. Usually Aurors were an open book, and the text was overzealous, self-righteous, and drunk on their own perception of power. His lips twitched. Once upon a time, they had something in common.
"May I eat?"
"Food will be provided at the Ministry."
Ah. Clearly time was important. It piqued his curiosity. What could the Ministry need that was so urgent that they resorted to treating him like a human being?
A part of him wished to be difficult and refuse to go just because he could; he didn't usually have the luxury of a choice. However, he had a feeling that they wouldn't give up. He didn't want to give them a reason to issue a warrant. There were no such reasons, of course, but that hardly mattered.
Lucius pushed the covers back and stood. He felt Bolden watching him as he pulled on a pair of trousers and a crisp white shirt. The robe was last, and it felt oddly restricting since he didn't wear it too often here. It would be cold in England, though.
With a few quick spells he was presentable. He was hungry and needed to use the loo, but presumably there would be time for that at the Ministry. Lucius summoned his wand and closed the window before nodding at the Auror.
Bolden put out his arm. Side-along Apparition, then. Apprehension hit him, that sort of wrench in the gut that came purely from instinct. As frequent as the Ministry's unannounced and uninvited visits were in the past, they had been quiet for the last few years, and they always travelled by floo. To show up now, and with this approach…something was wrong.
Though Bolden took pains to make it seem like he had a choice, Lucius knew he didn't. He reached out to grasp the other man's forearm and just before his bedroom flashed out of sight, he spared a brief moment to hope this wasn't a tremendous mistake.
"He's got to have something to do with this, Hermione, it can't just be coincidence!"
The aforementioned witch had her face in her hands. "Ron, we can't jump to conclusions," she said, her voice weary.
"I'm not jumping to any conclusion! You think it's just random chance that one of his old Death Eater cronies and former in-law-"
It took him a moment to regain his senses. He had never Apparated directly into the Ministry, as it was impossible most of the time. It only reinforced his worry that something was very wrong, indeed.
The other thing that made his stomach sink was the mop of Weasley red on the other side of the room, and the phrase 'in-law' still echoing in the air. He could only pray that they were not referring to any of his in-laws. There were only two left. How much trouble could they cause?
Plenty, when one was a fugitive Death Eater.
"Where is she?" Weasley demanded.
Lucius blinked, both at the volume and the demand. This was…Ronald, the youngest son, if he wasn't mistaken. He hadn't seen any of the ginger terrors in years, save for when they graced the newspaper, but he would always know this face.
"Ron, please," another voice issued. His eyes were pulled to the source of it, intrigued by the fragile tone. The woman let her hands slide away from her face.
Hermione Granger looked like hell. She was pale, her eyes bruised by dark circles, and her trademark curls were flat and lifeless.
"May I enquire as to who you are looking for?" Lucius asked, perplexed by their opposing demeanors. Weasley seemed ready to fight the world, his face red, body tense. He was the definition of rage. Lucius was glad that Bolden was between them.
She, on the other hand, looked as though worry and sadness were eating her alive. It seemed an effort to hold her head up. Lucius frowned. Where was the third member of the trio, and what mood was he in?
"Don't pretend you don't know!" Weasley snarled.
"Mr. Weasley, please sit down," Bolden commanded. "Mr. Malfoy is here to assist, not to be interrogated."
Lucius wanted very badly to make a caustic remark. He didn't. Learning to hold his tongue had been one of the most difficult lessons he ever lived through and he wasn't about to regress now. Besides, if he was truly here to assist, it was in his best interest to behave until he knew exactly what he stood to gain.
Lucius Malfoy looked different, though no less dangerous. Age had turned the blond to silver, his face bore a few more lines, and his body was perhaps a bit leaner, but all told, he still looked regal, arrogant, and calculating. A part of her resented how untouched he seemed.
But Hermione knew that was not the case. He was too patient, too quiet. Malfoy had withdrawn from English wizarding society years ago and though he was very good at controlling his facial expressions, she knew he wasn't happy to return.
That was what worried her. He had little reason to help them in the first place. The loathing between the Malfoys and Weasleys was the stuff of legend; both sides bore a grudge. To pile a forced return to England on top of that, and add in that they had little to nothing to offer Malfoy…and it was a recipe for denial.
He eased into the chair that Bolden offered, spine straight. Weasley looked a second away from spontaneous combustion. A quick glance at the Auror told him that Bolden saw it, too.
"Sit, Mr. Weasley," he ordered.
"I can't," the redhead growled.
"I understand that you're going through a difficult time, but you must calm yourself before you become ill. I will have to remove you, otherwise."
It was intensely strange to realize that for once, an Auror was on his side. Lucius watched as Granger lifted a hand and touched Weasley's elbow. The touch seemed to corral him. He sunk into the chair next to her and crossed his arms over his chest, breathing hard and visibly biting his lips to keep quiet.
It was disconcerting to sit face to face with people he had not seen since they were children. The same surreal sensation that hit when he watched Draco age filled his brain now. They were married. They had jobs and children. How time mocked him.
Bolden remained on his feet. He leaned against the end of the table, palms down. It was obvious that he was the negotiator.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Malfoy."
Lucius said nothing, but couldn't control a slight pursing of his lips. Bolden made it sound as if he'd issued a gilded invitation and picked him up in a stagecoach pulled by unicorns.
"There is a matter which requires your immediate attention." Bolden reached into his robe and pulled out a small roll of parchment. He smoothed it out on the table and pushed it towards Lucius.
Lucius braced himself and took the parchment. He recognized the handwriting instantly.
Bugger. His brow furrowed as he read.
As you have no doubt noticed, your daughter is missing. I have her. Do not attempt to find me unless you wish to see her harmed.
My demands are simple. I will speak only to Lucius Malfoy. The enclosed Portkey will work for him, and him alone.
Oh, just wonderful.
His reaction wasn't what she expected. Lucius let the parchment fall back to the table and then closed his eyes for a long moment. He expelled a slow, weary sigh. For just a second, he looked haunted.
As quickly as it had come, it was gone, the mask slipped back into place. He opened his eyes and straightened, all business.
"Rodolphus has abducted your daughter?"
"As if you don't know! You probably planned it with him!" Ron exploded.
Hermione opened her mouth to cut him off, but Lucius spoke up first.
"I assure you, I had nothing to do with it. If you require proof, I believe the Ministry still monitors my whereabouts. Is that correct, Auror Bolden?"
"It is," he nodded.
"I am certain that Mr. Bolden would be approaching this differently if there was any evidence that I played a role in your daughter's abduction. I would be in Azkaban, just like the other eleven times I have been falsely accused of a crime," Malfoy bit off with the precision of a sniper.
Hermione's stomach did a flip. This was exactly what she worried about. Though he most certainly deserved it and had brought it on himself, Malfoy had been routinely abused by law enforcement after the war. His marriage had fallen apart over it, he'd lost many of his investments, and in the end he had left England altogether. If that wasn't a recipe for bitterness, she didn't know what was.
Didn't Ron understand that they needed his help? That he was the only person that could assure that Rose was all right and give them any hope of getting her back? She had explained it to him a dozen times. Objectively, he understood it. He was just so angry and frightened for Rose that he couldn't control his emotions.
Hermione kicked him underneath the table. She loved Ron, but if Malfoy refused to help them because of his accusations, she would have to be restrained. Since becoming a mother she fully understood how women could turn into grizzly bears when their children were threatened.
"Mr. Malfoy, I know you didn't have anything to do with it," she beseeched. "All we're asking is that you help us. My daughter is only seven years old. I don't know what we would do if…if…"
Here it comes.
Sure enough, as Granger trailed off, her eyes filled with tears. She disintegrated into sobs. Lucius winced internally. The last time he had seen a woman cry like that was the week before Narcissa filed for divorce.
I can't take this anymore, she had said. I can't stand the stress. I love you, but…
And, well, whatever came after that was inconsequential. The moment 'but' entered the equation, all was lost.
Hermione felt Ron's arms around her. She hadn't the energy to be embarrassed. She'd held it together for thirty-one hours, operating on adrenaline, without food, without rest. If the worst she did right now was sob hysterically, she was all right.
Being a Slytherin, Lucius was well-versed in the many types of tears. There were tears designed to evoke sympathy, guilt, anger, or surrender. Men and women had tried to use all of them on him in the past.
The Muggles lumped them under one term: crocodile tears. These were not crocodile tears. Granger was at her wit's end. She wasn't trying to manipulate him.
"I'll help you."
Weasley looked up. "What?"
"I said I'll help you."
The redhead's face contorted as if he thought he was hallucinating. Granger, on the other hand, went boneless.
"Thank you. Oh, thank you…"
She was borderline delirious, but Hermione returned to earth quickly when Malfoy spoke again.
"I only ask one thing."
Oh. Of course there would be a condition. Merlin forbid he assist the rescue of a little girl from a crazed Death Eater without an asterisk.
"Anything," she said, heedless of the sharp look Auror Bolden shot her.
"No more Aurors. No more monitoring. I want to be left alone."
Silence hung heavy in the room. Hermione and Ron had a lot of pull, and so did Harry, but they couldn't strong-arm the Ministry. Kingsley ran a tight ship and was careful to avoid any hint of nepotism. But really, it had been fifteen years and Malfoy hadn't strayed. She was of the opinion that he learned his lesson. The trouble was that not everyone shared her outlook.
At last Auror Bolden found his voice. "On my word, all monitoring and probationary check-ins will cease once young Miss Weasley is safely returned to her parents."
She saw the way Malfoy looked at Bolden. His eyes were so shrewd; he knew that Bolden had not really allowed him anything. Both of their desires rested on the need to rescue Rose.
Thank Merlin Kingsley had suggested using his highest-ranking Slytherin Auror to negotiate this. Malfoy and Bolden understood one another. It went a long way in keeping things simple.
"Then we have an accord," Malfoy said. He leaned back and crossed one knee over the other. "Tell me what happened."
"But you never saw him."
"No one did. Rose just disappeared," Weasley said between his teeth.
"Tell me again what she was doing."
"She takes piano lessons after school in Diagon Alley," Granger repeated. "After that she usually walks to Weasley Wizard's Wheezes to stay with George until one of us gets out of work. George said she never made it. He figured one of us picked her up. He had no idea she was missing until we stopped by looking for her."
"And you know for certain she was at her piano lesson?"
"Yes, the teacher confirmed it," Hermione nodded.
"So somewhere between her lessons and Weasley's, Rodolphus got to her." Malfoy frowned. "How far is it?"
"Barely 400 meters. It was early afternoon. There are plenty of people out that time of day. Someone should have seen something," Ron sad, a note of desperation in his voice.
Lucius shook his head solemnly. Things were clearer now. Rodolphus was bold, but not so bold that he would waltz into Diagon Alley and attempt to kidnap a child by force. No – he had used the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley to his advantage.
"My guess is that he used the Imperius on her. If she went to him willingly, I doubt anyone would think twice about it. Especially if it was busy."
"I was thinking along the same lines," Bolden said, nodding. "All he needed was a good glamour or some Polyjuice. I'd be willing to bet he's been watching for a few weeks, waiting for the right opportunity."
"You'd be right. He wouldn't attempt something so big without preparation."
Weasley looked faintly ill at the thought of a fugitive Death Eater quietly stalking his daughter. Hermione leaned forward, addressing Bolden.
"Does Diagon Alley have any kind of surveillance? If we can look back, try to see if there's anyone hanging around her music school, or anyone following her, maybe we can at least know what his disguise looks like."
Lucius turned to Bolden, curious as to the answer. As far as he knew the wizarding world didn't employ routine surveillance like the Muggle world, but much had changed in the aftermath of the war and he had not visited Diagon Alley in a long time. Ten years, as a matter of fact.
"No. Several different types of surveillance have been proposed, but the public is uncomfortable with the breach of privacy. It's been voted down every year."
Weasley rubbed his hands over his face and Granger laughed in humorless, pained despair. Lucius found it quite ironic that people would vote down increased security measures after the war, but he did understand the strong desire to maintain one's privacy.
"He wouldn't reuse the same disguise," Lucius offered quietly. "It is unlikely that a recording would help."
"My question is why now?" Bolden said. "Lestrange has been below the radar for years. What's driving him?" He looked at Lucius, eyes questioning.
"I don't know. There is nothing significant about the timing, at least nothing that I can think of."
A brief silence reigned.
"Why Rose?" Ron asked after a while. "Why did it have to be our Rose?"
Again, Lucius had no answer, save for the obvious one. "He wants attention. I can't say whether it's motivated by blood prejudice or not, but he's making a statement. One that can't be ignored."
"I suspect the only way to find answers is for you to go to him," Bolden said. They had not spoken of it yet, mainly because it just wasn't that simple. They all knew it.
Hermione watched Malfoy's face. She wanted to make sure he wasn't having second thoughts. She might, if she was in his shoes.
Rodolphus Lestrange was just as dangerous to him as he was to Rose. None of them knew what motivated him to ask for Lucius. He could be walking into a trap, one he might never return from. That was always a possibility when dealing with someone like Lestrange.
In fact, she didn't understand why he wasn't more resistant to all of this. True, he had only accepted conditionally, but his conditions were reasonable and came at no cost to her. He was behaving with cooperation and patience, and genuinely trying to help. It was too easy. There had to be a catch. Or was it possible that Malfoy had developed some kind of capacity for empathy?
"I hope I am not telling you anything you don't know when I say that Rodolphus may kill me on the spot," the enigmatic wizard spoke up.
"I don't think he will," Bolden said. "He needs a go-between, and for some reason he chose you."
"Nonetheless, before I go anywhere I would like the chance to make sure my affairs are in order."
Ron looked like he wanted to say something, but he was silenced by a swift gesture from Hermione.
"How long will it take?" she asked as diplomatically as she could. Her instincts screamed that every minute he spent tending to his 'affairs' was a minute more that Rose had to spend with a monster, but they were asking him to risk his life. It was only fair that he get the opportunity to prepare for the worst.
"A few hours, at most."
"Why don't we reconvene after dinner. You two need to sleep," Bolden stated firmly.
"It won't be possible," Ron grumbled.
"Dreamless Sleep potion. We need you at your best. Your daughter needs you at your best."
Ron's hand slipped into hers. He nodded. "What time, then?"
"18:00. Is that sufficient, Mr. Malfoy?"
Lucius dipped his head. "It will do."
Lucius stood on his balcony, elbows on the rail. He had bought himself some time. Why, he wasn't sure.
His affairs had been in order for years. He'd done one last revision when Scorpius was born and had no immediate plans to change anything, unless Draco and Astoria had more children. If he died in the next minute, the next year, the next decade, it would stand.
So why, then, had he delayed?
He wasn't sure. Lucius squinted out at the ocean, which was afire with the afternoon sun. If he was a smoking man, he might have been inclined to smoke something; his father had once told him that smoking was best reserved for times of great celebration or great dilemma. Lucius had never had the taste for it regardless of the circumstances.
He had thought of visiting Draco. Perhaps even Narcissa…but what would he say to them? That was where he faltered.
He also thought of all that he had observed in that small conference room at the Ministry. Of Weasley, who didn't quite believe he wasn't involved in the whole thing, and of Granger, who expected him to turn them away with a sneer. And Bolden, of course. Ellsworth Bolden, who fancied himself very clever, and rightly so.
And now he thought of the girl. Rose. She was the same age as Scorpius. They would be in school together someday, if both sets of parents chose Hogwarts. Granger would. Draco, he was not so sure.
What would Rodolphus want with a seven-year-old girl? Likely nothing beyond whatever using her as a hostage could get him. Rodolphus had never been as mad as his wife. At the same time, he had never been able to say no to her, which was a madness all its own. Was he capable of that kind of cruelty without Bellatrix's influence?
He felt his jaw tightening at the thought of Bellatrix. Oh, how he hated her, even now. Lucius had not been able to speak to Narcissa for two days after she admitted to spending his money on burial costs for her sister. He understood that family was family, that she had lost a sister, but Merlin…
He had to remind himself that Narcissa didn't know everything that had gone on within the Manor's walls, and in ignorance, she couldn't be blamed. He was the one who chose to keep it that way. That did little to stem his hatred of Bellatrix. By the time the war was done, much of it had spilled over onto Rodolphus, as well. Lucius was no shining paradigm of courage, but Rodolphus was nearly as spineless as Wormtail.
So why this bold move now? What was it that Rodolphus wanted? And why, why did he have to drag Lucius into it? The past was done. All Lucius wanted was to live out his days here, quiet, alone, uncomplicated.
He sighed. If he lived through this, perhaps he would finally get his wish.