The walk from Lucius's study on the ground floor of the manor to his rooms on the first floor of the west wing had never seemed as long. His steps echoed, reminding him that he was alone in the house.
Gripping his grandfather's wand, which worked almost as well for him as the one the Dark Lord had borrowed and broken during yet another losing battle against Potter and his followers, and far better than any of the other Malfoy family wands, Lucius paused at the warded entrance to the old guest rooms where the Dark Lord and so many of his followers had been quartered during the last war. For a moment, he considered breaking the Aurors' seals and going in. However, he didn't need any further reminders of the ruin that the Dark Lord had left behind. So he continued on past the Heir's Apartments, which awaited Draco's return from his final year at Hogwarts.
A few steps beyond the Grey Lady's Chamber, he stopped and went back. At his murmured command, the manor showed him the dark blue shimmer of privacy spells that protected the doors. They were merely for show, as the manor would permit Lucius to enter any room, no matter how well warded by another, but Narcissa's message was clear. She still had not forgiven him for endangering their son. Not only was she maintaining separate rooms in the manor, but she also would not permit him entry by her own choice.
Messages could be returned, though. He raised his hand and pressed it against the door, his lips thinning as the spells stung his skin. He left it there for a few seconds before rapping his knuckles against the wood.
He wouldn't know until she returned from the Wizarding Riviera what her answer would be, but he could hope. With that thought, he continued on his way, not stopping until the doors to his own rooms closed behind him.
A sharp downward motion with his wand and a murmured, "Non Penetro," ensured that he would be left alone unless there was an emergency involving the manor or his family.
Then Lucius was alone with nothing more than his clawing need not to go back to Azkaban, a plan borne more of desperation than with any hope of success, and a trial that loomed far closer than was comfortable.
Lucius's dressing room was almost as large as his bedroom with wooden floors and doors along the two long walls. At the furthest end from the entrance was a dais surrounded by mirrors and a floor to ceiling window that could be spelled to provide the type of light for which Lucius needed to dress. A velvet-padded bench ran along the centre of the room, wide enough for a house-elf to lay out his clothing. Two matching wingback chairs and a small table sat in one corner.
Banishment would not suffice for what he had planned, Lucius knew. He needed to reject and to destroy. Not simply to reduce things to their component atoms, but to have a visceral knowledge of doing so. Bringing up the images of the items he had in mind, he transfigured the furniture, dais, mirrors, and the clothes he'd been wearing.
Eventually, though, he had what he needed. A wide three-legged stand bearing a large, shallow bronze basin half-filled with silver liquid took up the centre of the room. A dome draped with shimmering curtains of protective spells surrounded it, absorbing the smoke and dissipating it harmlessly. The bench remained, but it had been moved out of the way and expanded until it was large enough to accommodate any clothing Lucius should decide to place there. The light from the full moon that hung above the manor shone through the window.
He donned a white raw silk robe over his bare skin. A flick of his wand tied his hair back, safely out of the way. He wasn't quite naked, and yet he felt exposed, as if all of his secrets were available to be perused by anyone who so desired. For a moment he was overwhelmed by the urge to cover himself, to hide behind the familiar protection of his black clothing, but he couldn't, he wouldn't.
Before he could change his mind, Lucius Summoned the leather bag from his bedside table. He caught it in mid-air and walked over to the basin. Keeping the black phial, he shook the fragments of his old wand — its return a favour that had yet to be collected — out of the bag and arranged them in the basin.
Then, with his new wand, he conjured an impermeable shield and floated a single drop of Demonfyre Potion from the phial over to the basin. When the drop was an inch above the surface, he released the drop and dove behind the shield. The potion hit. The silver liquid burst into multi-coloured flames, and the wand shards were gone.
There was no backlash, no reaction, no pain. Despite the long decades of use, neither the elm nor its dragon heartstring core had retained any of his magic. If Lucius had had the energy to spare, he'd have hated the Dark Lord for that as well. But he didn't.
With a vicious swipe of his wand, Lucius dispersed the protective shield. He placed his wand in the groove on the table and went to open the first set of wardrobe doors. A sea of black greeted him. Cloaks, coats, and robes in velvet, leather, silk, satin, and wool.
He reached out and selected one at random: the sable-lined cloak he'd worn to meet with Narcissa's parents. He carried it over to the table. The fur was soft against his hands, tickling his palms, and reminding him of that night when he'd learned that winning hadn't meant pleasing her parents but standing against them on her behalf.
When the cloak was properly folded, he closed his eyes and brought it to his face, breathing in the faint scent of narcissi.
"A Malfoy." Disdain was clear on Cygnus Black's face. "Why on earth would we permit our daughter to step down to your level when Edward Burke has already offered on behalf of his oldest son, Cyril?"
Lucius's temper rose at the insult. He could feel his nostrils flare and his magic beat in his veins as he tried to restrain it. When he was sure his voice would not betray him, he said, "While the Burkes may currently have more influence than the Malfoys, their seat on the Wizengamot is a mere three centuries old. Ours comes in a direct line from Guillaume Malfoy, the first Chief of the Wizard's Council."
"And why should we care what your ancestor did?" sneered Druella Black. "When the issue at hand is what you can do for us."
Every strategy Lucius's father had drilled into him over the past weeks evaporated from Lucius's mind when Narcissa slipped her hand into his. He clasped it tightly and said, "I won't guarantee to do anything for you beyond what is negotiated in the marriage contract. My promises have been made to Narcissa, and she has deemed them acceptable."
Silence followed his pronouncement, an exchange of glances between Cygnus and Druella Black that Lucius found impossible to interpret. He returned Narcissa's gentle squeeze of his hand and tried not to think of the threatened betrothal to Carlotta Crabbe that awaited him if he failed to win his own choice of bride.
To his surprise, after a nod from Druella, Cygnus smiled and held out his hand. "Well done, Mr Malfoy. It's rare to find a wizard in our class who would put another before the surety of success."
The hour after that had been filled with small talk and arrangements for Lucius's parents to meet with the Blacks. Only when he was getting ready to leave for the closest Apparation point, had Narcissa and he finally been left alone by the front door.
As soon as he swung his cloak around his shoulders, she slipped inside, pressing herself against his chest and wrapping her arms around his waist. Her perfume surrounded him, as his fur-lined cloak surrounded her, and he was convinced that he'd made the right choice.
After the first cloak had been reduced to ash and smoke, Lucius moved quickly. One at a time, he stripped each piece of clothing off its hanger, carried it to the table for folding, and placed it on the fire.
So many pieces of clothing brought memories with them: the leather tunic-coat he'd worn during one of his encounters with Potter, the fine wool robes that he'd worn to his father's funeral.
He'd held some respect and little love for his father, but both were long gone. Abraxas Malfoy had set the path that had come so close to destroying the Malfoy family name, and yet no one remembered that he'd worn the Dark Mark long before Lucius had. A memory of his father twirling the ends of his moustache and raising a glass of port to the Dark Lord was overwhelmed by an image from the end. Of the swollen, stinking man who'd barely been able to stand the touch of a fine cotton sheet on his scarred and suppurating skin. And, yet, even then, Abraxas had been stoic until the very end. He'd never complained about the pain. He'd saved all his energy for controlling and manipulating the fortunes of the Malfoy family from his sickbed.
"Bastard," Lucius muttered, flinging the robes onto the fire and watching the flames consume them.
On and on, cloaks and robes and trousers and tunics, until the magical filters were dark with soot and ash and every door but one hung open. The relatively few clothes he owned that were neither dark grey nor black and held no dark magic protections hung amidst a sea of empty hangers.
A cleaning spell left the dome clear and shimmering once again, and he placed his hand on the knob of the last door. A prick into his thumb drew the blood necessary to disable the protections and then it was open.
The mingled odours of vervain, asafoetida, and bloodroot spilled out into the room. Wrinkling his nose, Lucius reached in and then hesitated before grasping one of the hooded cloaks. Spinning on one heel, he strode out of the dressing room and over to his workroom where he collected jars of sage, sweet grass, and cedar, scooped out measures of each, and combined them in a cauldron.
A chime rang as he re-entered his sitting room, drawing his attention over to the meal that had appeared on his desk. He considered it, hunger rising at the house-elves' offering of dark rye, smoked salmon, cream cheese, wafer-thin cucumber slices, and capers, then continued on his way. While he appreciated their gesture, he couldn't allow them to feed him until after he'd purified himself.
Back in the dressing room, he placed the cauldron next to the fire before retrieving the first of his hooded cloaks. As he folded it, he gritted his teeth against the urge to look at the remnants of the Dark Mark that scarred and twisted the skin and muscle of his left forearm.
Lucius stood next to the Dark Lord, keeping his expression and body language as blank and unreadable as possible and focussing all of his thoughts on what the Dark Lord wanted. Self-betrayal was invariably fatal and inevitable when the Dark Lord gripped Lucius's left arm with a claw-like hand, one of his long fingernails digging into the mouth of Lucius's Dark Mark, holding Lucius in place.
A Mudblood knelt before them. Shards of his wand were scattered before him and embedded into his palms. He'd been cursed and lashed by magic. His voice had been silenced by a hex. His hair was partially burnt off. And still the man held his head high, refusing to bow down.
"Kill him," the Dark Lord commanded.
Bellatrix's high-pitched laughter filled the room and raised the hairs on the back of Lucius's neck. She aimed her wand. "—"
"No!" The Dark Lord raised his free hand, palm outward.
The pout on her face would have amused Lucius under different circumstances. As it was, he had to fight to remain still as a sharp fingernail pierced his skin, sending a painful jolt through him and blood welling over his Mark. But then, finally, the Dark Lord released him.
"Lucius, demonstrate your loyalty."
"As you wish, my Lord." Ignoring the pain radiating up his left arm, Lucius raised his wand.
The prisoner shifted, turning his head to stare directly into Lucius's eyes. It's me or you, Lucius thought as he spoke the two words that shot a spear of green light from his wand. The momentary connection caused by the Unforgivable allowed Lucius to feel — and resent — the man's acceptance and near-gratitude.
Residual magic sparked and flashed as the cloak burned, but the mixture he'd added to the fire from the cauldron worked. Tendrils of grey and green smoke twisted around each other as they rose, only to dissolve when they reached the dome.
When Lucius was sure the protections would hold, he returned for the next cloak and the next and the next, continuing until there was only one item left. It was the worst of all, and the one thing that he truly feared destroying. There was simply no way to know the results, since it had never happened while the bearer was alive.
He stood in front of the open door for long minutes, taking deep breaths to calm and focus himself, before reaching in to open the ebony box. Three unlocking charms and three more drops of his blood, one for each of the silver keyholes that decorated the lid. Then he placed a hand on each end and waited. When the remaining protections recognised him and his magic, the lid rose.
Inside, on a bed of black velvet, lay Lucius's mask, the one that had been created when he received the Dark Mark. It seemed to absorb all the light in the enclosed space, enticing Lucius forwards until he couldn't help but reach out and pick it up.
It was inches from his face when he realised what he was doing and stepped backwards into the room, holding the mask in front of him.
Words floated through his mind. Mine and yours. He had to fight an almost overwhelming urge to don it, to soak in the magic and become what it demanded. That would be so simple. He was strong enough with the mask, capable of so much. And he wanted...
A frustrated growl escaped as he tightened his grip and moved towards the fire. He was on his knees before the flames, when he allowed himself to look at the mask again.
It changed colours when he turned it in his hands to examine it. Silver then white and then silver again. Power tingled in his fingertips as he traced its snake-like eyeholes, snarling mouth, and elaborate engravings. Unlike the Dark Mark, each mask was unique — a physical and magical representation of the oath made by the Death Eater to the Dark Lord.
Lucius had never dared ask the Dark Lord what the engravings on his mask meant... or what they did.
"Do not shame me." Abraxas Malfoy tightened his grip on Lucius's shoulder. "I will not suffer that lightly."
"Trust me, Father," Lucius sneered. "I'm not the one who's likely to bring shame on our family."
Abraxas grunted and smoothed a finger along his moustache. "You may find that promise harder to keep than you imagine."
Before Lucius could ask what that meant, his father was guiding him past a pair of men in black cloaks with the hoods up over their heads and masks covering their faces and through a set of double doors.
The high-ceilinged room had clearly once been a ballroom. Light flickered from sconces on the walls and a series of ornate crystal chandeliers. Lucius started to slow down as they neared the semi-circle of black-cloaked figures, but Abraxas shoved him forward, not allowing him to stop. He was one step away when the semi-circle split down the middle. Without making a sound, the figures moved apart.
Lucius walked down the centre of an aisle so narrow that there were only a couple of inches to spare on either side. He kept his expression blank, and his head high, conscious of the fact that even though no one turned to look at him or gave any indication that they were aware of his presence, the Death Eaters closed in behind him as he passed.
All too soon, he was in an open space. His father's hand withdrew. Without looking back, Lucius knew that another hooded and masked figure had been added to the front row, and he was alone. And nervous in a place where any weakness could get him killed — or worse. He focussed on what was in front of him, because there was nothing else he could do.
The Dark Lord sat before him, clad in high-necked, heavy black robes. Not on a throne, although the padded wooden chair might as well have been one. He beckoned. "Welcome... Lucius."
Lucius's feet seemed to move of their own volition until he was standing in front of the Dark Lord. Then, because he found himself unable to imagine doing anything else, he dropped to his knees and bowed his head. "My Lord."
A long fingered hand splayed over the top of Lucius's head, fingers digging into his scalp and forcing his head upwards until he had no choice except to meet the Dark Lord's eyes. Heeding his father's warning, he didn't fight either the painful grip or the invasion of his mind. Instead, he focussed on retaining as much control as he could while the Dark Lord's Legilimency called forth the major events of Lucius's life in a constant procession of moving pictures.
He was deep in the memory of a confrontation between seventh year Slytherins and Gryffindors when the Dark Lord ended his session. Once again faced with the reality of the ballroom, relief caused Lucius to sway in place before he caught himself, blinked, and straightened his spine.
"Yes," the Dark Lord said. "You may serve me. In fact—" he released Lucius's head to caress his cheek "—I believe I shall Mark you."
Bowing his head to hide his relief, Lucius murmured, "Thank you, my Lord."
The susurration of murmured conversations behind him was cut off when the Dark Lord grasped Lucius's forearm and used it to drag him closer. Lucius heard the word Morsmordre, and then he was caught up in a whirlwind of darkness, pinpoint lights, snakes, and pain. When he came to, he was kneeling in an empty room, pain radiated from his left forearm through his entire body, and he wore a mask.
He raised his head slowly, hissing and cradling his left arm when the pain sharpened. After a careful glance around the room, he got to his feet. He hesitated for a moment, then a strand of compulsion stabbed into his mind.
This way, it commanded, and he left the room. His head was higher than it had been when he entered, his back straighter, and his expression even less readable. And inside him, twining around his magic, was a constant awareness of the Dark Lord's clutching, compelling, devouring need.
He was a Death Eater. For better or for worse.
Lucius's grip was too tight. The edges of the mask were biting into his fingers. But it didn't matter. He'd chosen the tattoo, the mask, and everything that went along with them. That he hadn't understood the ramifications of that choice — that he could never have understood at that age — was irrelevant. He'd done it, and he had no one to blame for the ensuing disaster but himself.
And no one to fix it but himself.
With an effort, he straightened the fingers of his right hand and reached for the cauldron. Sweat was beading on his brow as he poured half of the remaining contents on the fire and put the cauldron back.
He leant forwards and held the mask over the flames. He tried once, twice, three times, but couldn't release the mask. It called to him, tempting him to put it back on, in a crooning hiss that was almost irresistible.
He had to do this, he reminded himself. The alternative — he shook his head. He didn't even want to think about that. It would not happen. He would not go back to that hellhole.
Forcing himself to keep holding the mask over the fire and ignore the searing heat from the flames, he began reciting the Malfoy family genealogy that his grandmother had used to sing him to sleep as a child, using that to block out the call of the mask. With his right hand, he pried the fingers of his left hand off the mask, one at a time, until it was dangling off his little finger.
And then he shook his hand and pulled it back before he could change his mind.
The croon became a high-pitched screech that scraped over his already raw nerves, abraded his magic, and caused the remnants of his Dark Mark to writhe on his arm. He collapsed next to the fire, curling around the pain, and holding his hands over his ears, as if that could shut out the noise.
The silence, when it finally came, sent a shudder through him. He stretched carefully, sat up, and peered into the bowl. The flames were almost burnt out, and all traces of the mask had disappeared.
Lucius rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. Everything — his life, his childhood, his ideals, his self — was gone, utterly destroyed, and yet it felt... unfinished. He blinked against the sandpapery feeling in his eyes, reached up to massage the bridge of his nose, and he understood. There was one last, unmistakable part of his past that still needed to be removed. His Dark Mark.
Can't be done, Severus had claimed, but Lucius knew better. All pureblood families, even those as disreputable as the Weasleys and Prewitts, maintained a set of rituals and the ground upon which they could be performed: to welcome new family members, to release the dead, and to purify the family line — by death, if necessary.
Lucius's breath caught as he contemplated what he needed to do. However, there was simply no other acceptable choice. Death would be far preferable to Azkaban, and far better for the Malfoy reputation. One incarceration without proper trial was excusable. A second sentence, handed down by the Wizengamot after such due process as was available through the Ministry, was not only inexcusable, it was grounds for banishment from the family.
And that possibility was unthinkable.
"Master Malfoy called Neacher?" The senior house-elf bowed so low that his nose touched the Persian carpet that covered the floor of Lucius's study.
Pushing aside his own concern at leaving family business to a house-elf — not that he would ever again underestimate the benefits of unconditional loyalty — Lucius said, "I have three duties for you. Each of those duties will be yours to perform if and only if you return to this house tomorrow morning and find I am not here."
"Only if Master is not here." The elf's ears trembled, but his voice was steady. "Neacher understands, Master."
Lucius rested his elbows on his desk, steepled his fingers, and stared down at the elf. "First, you will bar entrance to this house to everyone, including Mistress Narcissa and Master Draco, until my rooms have been completely cleaned and prepared for a new occupant."
"Neacher—" the elf hesitated, his eyes shimmering, before inclining his head. "Neacher obeys."
"Second," Lucius pointed his wand at a stack of sealed letters on the corner of his desk, "you will deliver each of those letters personally, in order, beginning with the top one. Do not use an owl, and do not hand them to anyone but the addressee."
"And last, but certainly not least, you will deliver the seals to Master Draco."
A squeaking noise escaped the elf before he bowed deeply again. When he straightened up, his ears were erect and he looked determined. "Master is here tomorrow, Neacher is being certain of that."
"You have your instructions." Lucius made a gesture of dismissal.
Neacher's eyes bulged and he said, "Neacher is always obeying Master's orders. Master is leaving door accessible to house-elves?"
"Enough," Lucius ordered. "You will perform your duties and that is all. Am I understood?"
"Neacher is understanding," the elf said, giving Lucius a half-bow before popping out of the room.
Lucius sighed and pushed himself to his feet. If he survived this, he would have to do something to get the house-elves back under control. Their celebration at being out from under the Dark Lord had gone on long enough. And if he didn't... well, that would be Draco's problem.
Lucius paced through the manor, his feet bare, his hair hanging loose, wearing nothing more than the robe he'd worn for the first ritual. His new wand lay on his desk in the study, with the Malfoy seals and signet ring.
The corridors grew increasingly narrow and dimly lit until he reached the green baize door that separated the residential part of the manor from the house-elves' domain. There he turned left and went to stand in front of a jade representation of a nest of twisting serpents.
A snakehead emerged from the nest and opened its mouth. Lucius raised his hands and pressed the pads of his thumbs on the fangs hard enough to break the skin and draw blood. Heat burned through his veins as the statue rose into the air, and he ran for the uneven stone steps hidden beneath it.
Almost immediately, the statue dropped back into place above him, missing his head by inches. The stairs moved beneath him, a hook caught him behind the navel, and he was transported away.
Lucius landed on his feet, facing an identical statue. This time, as he'd done every time he'd come to the ancestral cavern since his father's death had left him head of the family, he dropped to his knees and held his hands out to the snakes, palms upwards. Closing his eyes, he waited for an answer.
It came in a flurry of stone fangs, slicing the sleeves of his robes to ribbons and piercing his hands and arms. Magic bit deep into his flesh, scoured pathways along his nerves. Blood flowed down his arms from the puncture wounds. Each drop splashed onto the stone floor and was absorbed.
When he opened his eyes, the statue was gone. The wall in front of him was filled with a mass of writhing, hissing jade snakes. Then the snakes paused. Each head turned. Each pair of hooded eyes stared at him.
Lucius pressed his palms on the heads of the two largest snakes. Tongues licked at his skin, and the snakes separated, creating an archway into the cavern.
Water bubbled in the bottomless pool at the centre of the room, filling the air with a scent sharp enough to catch in Lucius's throat. He stepped to the edge of the pool and let the tattered robe slip off his shoulders. He hadn't been there since Draco's testing, since he'd taken his newborn son from Narcissa's arms, placed him on the surface of the water, and watch him be drawn down into the depths. The minutes after that, before a plume of water had shot upwards, supporting a smiling, living baby had been interminable.
A scraping, rasping noise drew Lucius out of his memories and back to the present. He knelt again, squeezing his hands into fists and forcing blood onto the flat stone that protruded a few inches over the pool. The response was immediate.
"Acceptance has been granted to you, and to your wife and son. No Malfoy has been born. No Malfoy has died." The words came from all around him. Innumerable voices wound together. The English overlaid everything, but beneath were a hundred other languages and dialects. A susurration of sound that caused every hair on Lucius's body to rise, every follicle to prickle.
"I come as a supplicant." Lucius displayed the scar of the Dark Mark that twisted through this left forearm. "The future and reputation of Malfoy hangs in the balance."
"He seeks Lustration." The last word was a challenge, reverberating around him, lisped and whispered, a sibilant murmur that sent a shiver down his spine.
"There can be consequences."
"I am Malfoy," Lucius said.
"His arm reeks of transgression, his magic of destruction for Malfoy."
Lucius remained silent, his blood still oozing onto the stone, his magic still burning, as the voices separated and argued over him until one voice, deeper than the rest, asked, "Can Malfoy be cleansed?"
"The possibility exists."
"There is another generation."
"Can Malfoy wait?"
"We have waited before."
"He but followed his father, followed his duty as every child is bid."
"Let the waters of Lustration decide."
The last sentence was spoken with finality by the same deep voice, and Lucius breathed a sigh of relief. He would be granted a chance to prove himself, the same possibility given to every Malfoy child at birth, every Malfoy spouse at betrothal and marriage.
"Will you submit yourself for judgment, Lucius Abraxas Black Malfoy, in the full knowledge that your life may be judged harmful to Malfoy?"
Lucius rose to his feet in a single graceful movement and walked to the edge of the protruding rock. Without hesitation, he stepped off the rock and plummeted feet-first into the water. He sank. Down and down. The water swirled around him, entered his ears and his nose, pried open his mouth and his eyelids, filled him, cradled him, squeezed him.
And, for the first time in his life, Lucius made no attempt to control or manipulate — he surrendered.