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The Limit of Sacrifice

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"Colder than a witch's teat." Lucius had once overheard a Muggle say that about the Cornish coast. Which, quite simply, was more evidence that Muggles were clearly insane. He tightened his grip on his cloak; his warming charm was impotent in the face of these frigid winds. They hurtled off the wild Atlantic onto the defenceless shore, sending the rain falling in sheets — not down like ordinary rain, but sideways, flat enough to make a bed. "Bed," he thought, letting his mind meander back to the Manor. That's where he wished to be now, stretched out under downy covers, his cheek pressed against his wife's warm, welcoming breasts.

His boot clipping an unnoticed rock nearly sent him face-first into the mud, yanking his thoughts cruelly from their respite. Righting himself, he cursed Severus yet again. Bloody fool could not even manage to eavesdrop properly. Because of his incompetence, Lucius was doomed to spend the longest — and presumably the coldest — night of the year stumbling across the crusty edge of Britain.

The inside of his forearm burned, the ghostly throb of his Dark Mark a reminder of what had transpired earlier that evening. He had arrived at the Rosier estate to find Rosier absent, Snape looking entirely too smug, and his Master pacing agitatedly in the drawing room.

"A Seer has foretold my defeat," he had scoffed as Lucius kneeled before him. "A boy not yet born will vanquish me. Me, defeated by a child!" A shower of angry red-gold sparks flew from his wand like dry leaves scattered in the wind. "It will not happen. I will crush him in his cradle." Lucius had darted his eyes up to see the Dark Lord's neck twist towards him. It had given the man an eerie serpentine appearance and Lucius had to steel himself not to flinch as he had stepped closer. "I believe your son is on his way, is he not, Lucius?"

"Yes, my Lord," he had answered, unease growing as he realised the import of the question. "The Healer says he will be born some weeks before the next Solstice."

Eyes so bright they almost seemed to burn studied him carefully, testing the truth of his words. "You are my loyal servant, Lucius?"

Images of his wife, of his unborn son, had flickered unbidden through his mind. "You know I am, Master," he answered, pushing them back into the darkness where they would be safe. The Dark Lord shuffled through his thoughts like they were no more than a deck of playing cards, then withdrew with the suddenness of a slamming door. Lucius fought to stifle his surprised gasp.

"What were the witch's words, Severus?"

"Born as the seventh month dies," Snape had answered in measured tones that couldn't hide his amusement. He had known full well that the Legilimency was unnecessary.

"Ah, well after the Solstice, then," Lord Voldemort had crooned. "Your son is safe, it seems. But another one must die. I will have that prophecy, Lucius. You will bring it to me."

And so here he was, on the longest night of the year, navigating the treacherous cliffs where of course the mad witch would live. Lucius didn't know this Seer, but Cassandra Trelawney, her great-grandmother, had been one of the world's most renowned seers. He even remembered her grandmother, Selene Trelawney. His own mother had often consulted her, though he knew not the reason. He also remembered that the witch had taken her own life by hurtling herself to the rocks below. Lucius shuddered slightly, a motion having little to do with the chill night. What future could she have seen to warrant such a brutal end?

He wandered on, thinking of how much he hated Cornwall, and how he would not be here at all if not for Severus. His thoughts led him down suspicious paths of what the half-blood was doing there in the mansion with the Dark Lord.

"It's just Slytherin cunning, my love, nothing you cannot handle," he heard Narcissa say, and his mind was flooded with the image of her in the manor, three months pregnant, her belly rounded and just beginning to show. The son he had long wanted, she had promised him, the heir to carry on his name. He would use every last ounce of Slytherin cunning to keep them from harm.

At last he came to the stone cottage where the witch lived. It hugged the cliff side, from a distance easily mistaken for another of the jagged rocks that jutted out like chipped teeth from the edge of the earth. Closer, it revealed signs of disrepair that drew Lucius' contempt. Deflection charms might make a witch's abode appear so forbidding to Muggle eyes, but no self-respecting witch would allow her home to deteriorate so. Even a house elf would be embarrassed to be here.

But apparently there was no house elf to be embarrassed, or anyone else for that matter, for there was no answer when Lucius rapped his walking stick twice, hard, against the door. He was hesitant to go inside, but Lucius knew his Master would not accept an excuse. Quickly spelling the door open, he turned the handle and ducked under the low lintel. On the other side, the dark room overflowed with hanging herbs, books, and other assorted clutter. A flick of his wand opened the drapes to let the grey creep weakly in. It lit a portrait of a wrinkled crone who faced Lucius with a disapproving stare. It also cast a storm of dust over the disorder and nearly choked him. Burying his face in his wet cloak, he again cursed this fool's errand.

Lucius made his way deeper into the cottage, at last finding the room that held the Seer's prophecies. Orbs were stacked floor to ceiling in narrow shelves. All dormant now, none gave a clue about where he might start his search. Any one of them might be cursed. Any one of them might be warded against theft. He could end up here tonight mad and lost; Narcissa might never know what had befallen him.

Not for the first time, Lucius wondered if following Lord Voldemort was worth the risk. The cause, he believed in, without question. The Malfoys had long been its proud supporters. Abraxas had brought him up to value blood purity and the privileges it bestowed; his mother's line could be traced through infinite generations of pureblood wizards. Narcissa's family had been blighted by the love of mudbloods, and he had seen the pain it had caused them. It was not the cause he questioned but the growing demands of the Dark Lord. Increasingly they went beyond sense, to absolute devotion, even to the point of self-abnegation. Lucius wanted to believe that level of sacrifice was justified (if it was in vain, it was truly unfathomable), but his Slytherin instinct for self-preservation insisted that it was better coming from others. There were precious few things that he truly cared about in this world, and fewer still that he would sacrifice himself for. As the war had intensified, he had even begun thinking of his family not as the last of a long line of Malfoys, but as his wife and the son that June would bring. And although his Lord could never know his thoughts, not even under Legilimency, Lucius had begun to feel that his sacrifice and devotion might be reserved for them alone.

Troubled by these thoughts, Lucius did not hear the back door creak open or the footsteps approaching him from behind. He didn't sense the witch who watched comfortably, unsurprised to find a strange wizard in her home, until she spoke.

"I expected you tomorrow."

Lucius whirled around, his cloak sending another cloud of dust into the air. Through it he saw a witch with an explosion of curls and large owlish spectacles. His wand pointed directly at her eyes, he demanded, "What brings you here?"

"Me? I live here," said the witch with a surprised little laugh. "The question would be what you are doing here. But of course I already know that through the power of divination. Only, I really thought you would be here tomorrow…" She waved her hand as if it was of no importance. "Now. Where were we?"

As the witch moved purposefully among the orbs as if hunting for something, Lucius said, "You have something my Master desires."

She froze. "Your Master?" Slowly, she turned to look at him. "I was sure that you would want it yourself."

"Me? What use would I have for a prophecy?"

"A prophecy about your son," the witch clarified. She peered through her thick lenses, making Lucius feel like he was the foolish one. "Your son is to be born in the sixth month, yes?"

"That's right."

"Then" — she bent down and pulled one of the smaller orbs from the shelf — "this is for you." It looked like an empty glass ball, just like all the others, until she laid a hand lightly on its side. Clouds immediately formed inside, and he saw her face appear inside the glass, and heard her voice rise as if from a tunnel.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches ... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ...

And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."

Silence followed, and the orb seemed to burn slowly out. A fragile light burned on, however, a tiny, almost imperceptible flicker. Lucius could not explain why it entranced him so. The witch seemed to hum beside him; her eyes closed, she waited.

Then, without warning, the witch's image reappeared. She spoke again.

"Another child shall be born in the sixth month, to the Dark Lord's most faithful servants, to the most Ancient House ... The fate of the Dark Lord's equal will rest in the scion's hands, but he will betray him not ... The one born to stand beside the Dark Lord will be named a traitor ... He shall kneel before his vanquisher, and the line of the Noble House shall forever die...

And they shall have a love that is stronger than brothers."

"That latter part is just for you," she said, not aware that Lucius had been struck dumb by her words. "Albus left to talk with Barty because he thought the prophecy was finished. No one else has ever heard it."

"And no one shall," Lucius said, almost gently, as he raised his wand.

* * *

The Keeper of the Hall finished his measurements of the prophecy, noted them on the accession form, and returned to his questions.

"You said that the originator of the prophecy is Sybil Trelawney?"

Albus Dumbledore nodded. "That's correct. Um, Sybill with two 'L's."

Ink immediately appeared to correct the name, and the questions continued. There were many; all the rigours of bureaucracy were enforced in this great storehouse of pasts and futures. Dumbledore answered them mostly in monosyllables until the inspector asked, "Were you present at the time of this prophecy and did you obtain this prophecy directly from its originator?"

"Yes… and no." A raised eyebrow told him that he had to go on. "I was with Sybill at the time of the prophecy, but she didn't want to give it to me then. She said it concerned someone else."

The eyebrow raised further, and the inspector asked suspiciously, "How did it come into your possession, then?"

"It… well, it just appeared in my transfiguration classroom. I have no explanation as to how it got there."

At this, the Keeper put down his quill. "I'll need to speak with Ms. Trelawney."

"I'm afraid that's not possible. She was found in her home, obliviated. Quite powerfully, too. She doesn't remember anything about making the prophecy — or much else for that matter."

The bureaucrat still looked recalcitrant. At last, Dumbledore leaned forward, his power thrumming through him. "I assure you, Minister Bagnold and I would not insist on this unless it was extremely important. This prophecy mentions the Dark Lord. It must be guarded with the greatest of care."

The Keeper, looking humbled, nodded. "Of course, Professor Dumbledore. There is no safer place for it. I do have one last question: how long is it?"

"Not long at all," replied Dumbledore. "Only a few lines."

* * *

On the June night that Lucius' son was born, a comet burned across the sky. Lucius held his son in his arms for the first time and watched the trail it left, like dragon fire across the sky. "You will be safe and strong," he promised the tiny baby, and he knew the words were true, for there were no limits on what he would sacrifice for his family.

~~~ The End ~~~