Occasionally, it’s all too much. The foolishness, the craven self-interest, the disorganization, the mistakes. The mistakes, oh, THE MISTAKES. Your head throbs. You have given YOUR LIFE to the cause of the liberation of the wizarding world, and these fools can’t get you decent intelligence on the whereabouts of a seventeen-year-old boy.
(Wait! You haven’t given your life. Just the opposite, though occasionally dealing with these UTTER IMBECILES creates an unpleasant sensation not unlike being trapped inside a turban for months on end, listening to first-years massacre the summoning charm.)
The throbbing in your head grows worse. These fools ought to look at your emaciated, worn frame and BOW DOWN in front of you, in AWE of your total commitment to mastering the full spectrum of wizarding magic! They ought to be SPEECHLESS before your zest for eliminating everyone and everything that might stand in the way of the complete realization of this extraordinary power! They ought to be ASHAMED of every moment they sit before front of you, reporting on their failures!
Instead, Severus is fighting back a yawn. Narcissa has her wand out beneath her own dining room table, flicking as she surreptitiously scourgifies the dirty boots of her assembled guests. Amycus is picking at a lackluster baked ziti, debating how to kill the house-elf who made it.
They don’t give a hint of any of these inner debates on their persons, of course. No one would be that foolish. But you are a master of legilimancy, don't they remember? How many times have you demonstrated in front of them just how EFFECTIVELY you can probe the mind of a captive? Have they really forgotten you have access to EVERY ONE of their innermost thoughts and desires? Does Severus truly think that that his half-arsed occlumancy is shielding a single one of his passing desires for the warmth of his bed, or for a cup of tea, or for a nice, long wank? (You shudder.)
THESE are your best and brightest, these lackluster minions? Unable to perform the simplest of tasks without errors? Unrepentant about their inadequacies? Incapable of sitting through a four-hour strategy meeting without daydreaming?
"Out!" you hiss. Rage makes your entire body quiver, and Nagini writhes in sympathy, slythering closer to you and curling around your shoulders. "Out! Out of my sight! All of you!"
Lucius Malfoy glances around the table at the assembled group and clears his throat. "My Lord--"
You draw your wand. "NOW!"
With skittish, side-long glances and nervous murmurs, your closest advisers file out of the Malfoy dining room. Severus is gone almost before you realize it. Alecto hesitates, glances back at the table, then summons her plate of ziti. Greyback runs his fingernails along the table as he leaves. Someone--Lucius, probably--pulls the door shut and murmurs something about someone needing a little time alone.
Alone. You are finally alone.
"Nagini," you say as you sink down into the armchair, cradling your aching head in your hands, trying to ignore the rank smells of the half-eaten dinner still on the table before you. Nagini’s tail flicks back and forth, lazily. The stupidity of your followers has been galling at the best of times, but recently they have become even more obtuse and distracted than usual. More than ever, you wish that there was some way to animate them, to light them with the same fire that burns in you, the same passionate desire for a world free of Muggles in which no form of magic is prohibited, to any one. You all hate Muggles, of course, and but for most of your followers, the reaction is almost rote. After the first fervor has passed, after the the masks and robes are purchased and the Marks scab and heal, there is a curious passivity among many of them, a lack of imagination and drive to transform the world as completely as you would like to transform it.
There is the Imperius Curse, of course, but that curse makes your followers little more than puppets to do your bidding. Helpful at times, but mostly inconvenient. You want your hands free from the puppet strings. You want your followers to understand what what want, to want what you want, to act in concordance with your wishes rather than constantly waiting for orders or the Cruciatus curse. You want to lead, rather simply constantly nipping at the heels of this band of scraggly, unruly crups.
The ache inside your head is almost more than you can bear. It’s odd, you’d rarely had any emotions at all as a child. You can remember kneeling over the body of the first person you’d killed, a child in the year below you who seemed likely to beat your record marks in multiplication, feeling nothing but a vague surprise that the human windpipe was so exposed and vulnerable. Now--Ever Since--your emotions vacillate between euphoria and frustration. You have breathtaking visions of a world untainted by the ugliness of Muggles, visions that fill you with hope and longing and awe. More often, though, you are almost paralyzed by rage and a feeling of being thwarted more powerful than any feeling you have ever felt before.
You raise you head. You are not alone after all. There is a small, dirty man who has emerged from the shadows at the far end of the room, not one of you advisers, but a familiar face nonetheless. You have used him in the past...ah, Mundungus Fletcher.
You flick your wand in the man's direction and mutter a crucio halfheartedly. "Go. Leave me alone."
The man twitches but remains firmly planted on the Malfoy's prized Persian carpet. The sizzle of a diverted spell dies out under the dining room table.
You try again, focusing your energies as they should be focused. “Crucio!”
"One-quarter troll," Mundungus says, slapping his backside energetically. "Thick-skinned."
You close your eyes. Right. You had a hard time getting rid of him last time, too.
You massage your temples. "Would Avada Kedavra work?"
"Gives me a splitting headache, it does."
"Can I simply order you to leave? Go! Be gone!"
"Sir, I thought you might be interested..."
You open one eye suspiciously.
“You know that I’m a dealer in rare magical objects, and that occasionally I stop by with an item that might be of assistance to my Lord?”
It’s all coming back to you, now. Last time, the man wanted you to purchase a greasy little slip of parchment he claimed was Salazar Slytherin’s preliminary sketch for a magical water closet to replace Hogwarts’ chamber pots.
You have reached the nadir. You consider reconvening your meeting.
“It’s information I have this time, instead, sir, but I have it on the best of all possible personal confidences that you might be interested,” he says conspiratorially, leading toward. “It’s about...a locket.”
For a moment you feel a sensation you haven’t felt in years, a tightening of the stomach, an icy prickle on your spine, a shortening a breath. A locket! But there is no possibility....
“You’re interested, I see? Won’t cost you much to know--”
This is no time for questions or conversation, much less bargaining. (Where had this little man got the idea you paid for anything?) You rise, grabbing the man by the lapels of his threadbare jacket, staring into his blinking eyes, probing his mind.
The first thing you see, of course, is the lucre: galleons, sickles, knuts, but also diamonds, jewelry, silverware, portraiture. The man’s mind is a storehouse of wizarding Britain’s most valuable objects, as cluttered and enticing as Borgin and Burkes had been, all those years ago.
There is no sign of the locket, initially. Of course there isn’t. (Your heart unclenches, the icy prickle on your spine dies away.) Of all of your precious items, that was the one you had guarded most carefully. There is no possibility that this man knows anything of your locket. And yet...
And yet, there it is, in the man’s hand. He is turning it over and over, running a thick, calloused finger over the jewels arranged in the shape of that sacred “S.” He feels the weight of the gold in his hand. (Is it the same one? You can’t tell. After all these years, you can’t remember exactly what it looked like. Shouldn’t you feel some flash of recognition, some quickening of the magic in your bones as you are reunited with a piece of your soul?) The scene shifts, from the shadowy, silent front room of a town house to the bustling cobblestones of wizarding London--and then it shifts again, to reveal Dolores Umbridge’s wide, menacing smile and the look of triumph in her eyes as she rips the locket from your hands.
You drop the man, push him away from you with both hands so forcefully that he falls backward on his arse and his elbow, so powerfully that he looks at you with something approaching terror in his eyes.
”Avada Kedavra!” you scream.
The man scrambles backward on the floor, trying to get away from you. The killing curse ricochets off off his hide, but his whole body continues to twitch even afterward.
Blood rushes in your ears, pounds behind your eyes. The room is growing dim, blurry about the edges. The man lets out a low moan, that sounds as if it comes from far away.
“AVADA KEDAVRA!” At this last command, your wand trembles and the curse at its tip explodes.
The first thing you see when you regain consciousness is the shattered chandelier. High above you, crystals drip from a broken support, covered in the fine dust of plaster from the cracked and sagging ceiling.
The chandelier comes into focus and than fades again. You squeeze your eyes closed, then open them.
As you turn slightly to the side, Lucius Malfoy’s blond head comes into view. He is leaning over you, his eyes soft and concerned, eyebrows knit in worry. You are so close you can see the fine stubble on his chin, the grey hairs at his temples.
“My Lord,” he says softly. “You are still with us.”
You have been laid out on the dining room table, like a corpse, Nagini lying at your side. You struggle to raise yourself on your elbow. Your whole body throbs. Behind Lucius, Narcissa Malfoy watches. “Help him sit up, Lucius.”
Lucius hesitates to touch you, reaching out one, twice, three times, then finally, gingerly placing a hand behind your back and pushing you upright. Narcissa pulls your legs around, so that you are sitting on the edge of the table, boots dangling. At the periphery of your vision, the dining room fades to black, and you struggle to keep you eyes open.
“Just breathe, my Lord,” Narcissa murmurs.
“Lucius,” you say. “You need to--” You struggle to speak, to find the words. You are shaken, shaken to the core by this new knowledge. You need his help. You need his undivided attention, all of his ingenuity at your command. You need to be able to trust him, to work in your name even when you aren’t there. There can’t be mistakes this time, like that house-elf fiasco. You can’t wait for a year, throughout the unending family conversations, for Draco to decide what to do. You need to know what happened to the locket, if a part of your soul is, in fact, circulating unprotected out there in the world.
You wouldn't trust your soul with a single member of your inner circle, but Lucius is the best you have. You glance at Narcissa and flick your eyes toward the door, a clear command. She excuses herself.
“Lucius, you need--” you begin, and Lucius looks at you expectantly, still standing at your side, waiting for orders. Forgoing the difficult words, you rifle through his mind: what is it that makes Lucius act? What creates loyalty in him? The man falls apart under a certain kind of pressure; threatening his family, as you did last year, was a disaster. What holds him together?
Unlike the little thief’s mind, Lucius’ is a tidy place. You can see all the signs of family: house, portraits of his ancestors, a necklace kept in a small silver box under a deadly curse, a shelf of volumes on the Dark Arts, hidden so effectively the Ministry had missed them when they raided the house.
Narcissa is there in every corner: an elegant young woman, a self-possessed spouse, a counselor, a partner, a friend. Draco is there, too, handsome and strong and quick-witted, hardly recognizable given the sallow, confused, frightened child you have come to know. Would it help to tell him that they will be in danger if this locket is not found? Or will he fall apart again? What motivates him to be the competent, reliable ally you first found, so many years ago?
Beneath the images of Narcissa and Draco, there are others: a mother, beaming with pride at the mark on Lucius' arm. More recently, a friend standing at his side when he is released from Azkaban. A father, sitting in an armchair in a drawing room you recognize, glancing up at a much younger Lucius as he walks into the room.
“Lucius,” the man says.
Lucius dips his head, flushing and unable to suppress a smile.
“Your mother told me,” the man says, rising from his chair to grasp Lucius' arm and shake his hand. The man nods, lips pressed together suppressing an emotion you don’t recognize. “She told me,” he repeats, still shaking Lucius’ hand. Lucius' eyes brim. “A Black. I couldn’t be more proud. You will make this family, Lucius.”
And with that, the man pulls Lucius towards him and wraps him in an embrace.
"I will do anything for this family, Father," Lucius whispers. "Anything."
You look at the older Lucius standing next to you. Is that what motivates this man? Touching? A...your mouth twists at the very thought, a hug? It seems improbable, but the image is undeniably powerful in Lucius’ mind. And you have too much to lose to prevaricate much longer.
“Come here, Lucius,” you say, and Lucius warily edges toward you. You reach up and put one hand on his shoulder. He flinches. But his shoulder is warm and soft, completely different from yours. You pull him closer, now wrapping both arms around his back. For a moment, his face draws too close to yours, and you realize your noses are about to collide, but Lucius quickly shifts to the right, so that his chin fits atop your shoulder. Mirroring his actions, you rest your chin on his. Lucius’ hands steal around your waist, and you can smell the scent of his hair, and you can feel him breathe, deep breaths, in, out, in, out. You’re surprised just how sweet the scent is. Next to you, Nagini hisses.
How long does this need to last? Is he loyal to you now? Your back is getting sore.
You wait one moment more, to be certain, then pull away. “Lucius,” you said. “I need you to find something for me.”