The crash of crystal brought Lucius out of his study at a run. When he saw what was happening on the polished stairs below him, though, he stopped and wished he hadn’t bothered.
Crystals from the broken chandelier did lie on the steps. Sitting on one of the branches that held magical candles was a screaming white bird, beating its wings so hard that the chandelier was still swaying. It had a trailing tail and a huge black beak and it jerked its head back and forth with savage snaps, fluffing up its huge crest to scream again and again.
Crouched below it on the floor next to the bottom step was a lynx. The lynx’s head turned from side to side to track the cockatoo’s movements. Lucius couldn’t see its eyes from here, but knew they would be bright green and burning with killing intent. That was the only way he ever saw them.
“Not in the house,” Lucius said, pitching his voice to carry.
The lynx started and sat up, then turned around to begin washing its side like an ordinary housecat. Lucius would have smiled if he could have found smiles for this unnecessary drama anymore. As it was, he only turned and looked up at the cockatoo until it ceased its screams and peered at him around one crystal, crest still up.
“Come down from there, Draco,” he said. He waited until the cockatoo had spread its wings, and then added, “Without breaking anything else.”
The cockatoo seemed to find that hard to obey, but finally settled for a hard, swirling circle that carried him to the middle of the bottom step. The lynx watched him with a twitching tail and narrowed eyes, but didn’t move. Draco changed back to himself with a shake and shimmer of magic that Lucius had once liked to watch.
Now, seeing that his son only used his Animagus form to cause trouble and fight with his lover was not nearly as pleasing to him as it had been.
“Your mother is sleeping,” Lucius said. “If you cannot control the impulse to fly and make noise, do it in another part of the Manor.”
He turned and went back into his study, shutting the door firmly behind him, before either of them could try something to convince him that he should take their side in the argument. Then he settled in front of the ingredients lists for potions that didn’t work and began to go slowly through them again. No, nothing worked, but Lucius still thought it possible to take some of those ingredients and brew something that would.
He heard footsteps on the stairs, and tensed his shoulders. He really did not want to speak to either Potter or Draco now. He had his own problems to deal with.
Then he heard what could have been the beginnings of a knock, interrupted by a flustered hiss and the sounds of soft fighting. Lucius leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling, tapping a small crystal Abraxan that stood on the desk. It let him overhear the words spoken by anyone standing a small distance from his door.
“—you know your mother is worse. Leave him alone.”
“Like you were thinking about the noise we were making until he said something, Harry. You could have resisted the temptation to jump at me. All feline instincts, and you want to pretend it’s my ‘bird brain’ making me do these things—”
“Insulting Hermione doesn’t trigger my feline instincts. It triggers my desire to make you shut up.”
“She knows nothing about my mother that the prestigious Healers Father has taken her to don’t know, Potter. Her offer to help was an insult.”
“Draco, if you don’t take back what you said, I swear—”
“You already spent a long time doing that earlier, as I remember. It didn’t make you feel better or change things, did it?”
Lucius was about to go out and tell them to be quiet again, but then he heard the sound of Draco pounding down the stairs. From the lack of voices outside Lucius’s door, Potter had followed him.
Slowly, carefully, Lucius massaged his forehead and the back of his own neck. Then he tilted back until he was looking directly above himself at the ceiling, where he could see a faint reflection of color when he shook his head.
Draco had offered to come home and live here to “help with Narcissa.” Lucius wondered how he could tell him to go away again without offending both Draco and Potter.
But the truth was, he only made things worse. Lucius had no idea what he saw in Potter, but it wasn’t peace or the grounded stability that Lucius and Narcissa had in their own marriage.
Lucius sat there, happy to contemplate anything that wasn’t the slow dying of his wife’s magic in her body, before he turned back to the lists. He knew the answer was there, somewhere. Because it must be. He willed it to be. He would not accept anything else.
“I don’t like your friends.”
Lucius paused outside the dining room. He had known he should simply stay in his study and let the house-elves bring him food, but he had started to crouch and flinch in his mind, and he recognized those signs. It was the mentality of someone under siege. He had done enough of that when the Dark Lord lived in his house to know the danger.
So he had gone for a walk to stretch his legs and fill his eyes with something other than endless writing. And he was well-paid for his impulsiveness.
He stood outside the main library now, and he could hear the thumps of Draco’s feet as he paced back and forth. Draco had the habit of pacing when he thought, even as Lucius did. Potter was probably sitting down, and, from the small, crisp parchment sounds, turning the pages of a book.
“It’s nice for you that you don’t have to like them, then,” Potter said, sweet and butter-smooth. “Since you’re not their friend, and they’re not yours, and all you have in common is me.”
“I don’t like you spending time with them, either. I don’t like you going over there. I know that Weasley invites his little sister to dinner at the same time as you.”
Potter slammed the book down, from the sound. Lucius could only wince and hope that it wasn’t one with a weak binding.
“I told you, Ginny and I aren’t together anymore, and it only makes you sound weak and whining when you’re afraid of me getting back together with her! I said I wouldn’t, I said things are different now. Why can’t you trust me on that?”
“I don’t know, Potter. Maybe because you keep appeasing Weasley by agreeing with his comments about how pretty she is whenever we’re over there? Maybe because she looks at you with those soulful eyes, and you look back? Maybe because I walked in on you kissing the other fucking day!”
Lucius jumped, both at the slam of what was definitely a breakable object and at the words. He had never heard his son swear like that before.
“I told you! She said that she was upset and really needed to talk to me, I thought it was about her current boyfriend, I followed her into that room and she turned around and hugged me and started crying, and I kissed her hair! She’s my friend, Draco, no more than that.”
The response was a wild screech. Which meant Draco had transformed again, and Potter would probably be following him into lynx form any second and leaping to try and scratch Draco apart.
Lucius counted under his breath and then flung open the door. The cockatoo was in flight around the library, tail trailing behind it, shrieking in panic. The lynx leaped beneath it, paws out, snarl echoing in Lucius’s ears.
“That is enough.”
Lucius was impressed with himself. He hadn’t even raised his voice the way he had when he yelled at Draco earlier for breaking the chandelier. He simply spoke, and there was silence and obedience. Draco settled on a bookshelf—the top, so he didn’t have any books he could destroy. Potter sat beneath him, ears twitching.
“You will leave tonight,” Lucius said, looking at Potter. He thought that Draco actually started the majority of their arguments, but Draco had the right to be here because it was still his home. At this point, Potter was simply an inconvenient guest. “Do not come back unless I summon you.”
Potter changed back and stood up, gathering the book he’d been reading. He left. Lucius thought about calling him back and making him restore what was obviously Malfoy property—Potter wouldn’t own any books that old or well-made—but he didn’t think it was worth the difficulty or the drama.
He turned to Draco. Draco hadn’t changed back yet. The cockatoo cocked his head and fluttered his crest up and down so fast that it was like watching a fan in the hand of a desperate flirt.
Narcissa had once owned a fan like that, when they were still students at Hogwarts. She had used it, too, fluttering it coyly while looking at Lucius over the edge. It made Lucius’s breath catch to remember, and not with joy.
“You should know your mother is dying,” Lucius said. “You should know she does not have long. I allowed you to bring Potter here because I thought he would comfort you. And you create this disgraceful, disrespectful spectacle instead of helping me.”
The cockatoo shifted as if he would fly off the top shelf, but Lucius shook his head. “Nothing you can say will make this better.”
He turned and left, to go stalk around the outer grounds. Either Draco had good sense or he couldn’t find him, because he didn’t come to confront Lucius before Lucius decided the distance he had walked was enough and went back to his study.
Sitting once again before the ingredients lists, Lucius closed his eyes. Narcissa had taken the Draught of Living Death that morning and was in its coma willingly, for the sake of her magic. The Healers had said they would do what they could.
Lucius had grown used to reading faces more closed than theirs when he was a Death Eater. They didn’t know what they could do.
Sitting there wasn’t doing enough, though. So Lucius pulled the list of ingredients towards him, and went on.
Lucius looked up. Draco stood in the doorway of Narcissa’s hospital room, his face as white as the robes she wore. Lucius had opposed her wearing those robes, because he thought they made her look washed-out and on the brink of death. She had looked up at him from where she was sitting in front of her dressing table.
“I’m there already, Lucius,” she said. Always naming the truths he couldn’t face.
Now, though, she was still and silent. Draco had come to St. Mungo’s when Lucius was there, which he had avoided for nearly a week now. Lucius dredged up his fatherly patience and said, “What is it, Draco?”
“Can I please bring Harry back to the Manor?” Draco whispered. “He would really comfort me, and I want him there.”
Lucius closed his eyes. He wanted to say that Narcissa needed all his time and attention now, and Draco and his Potter were a distraction, and the last time they had changed form before the chandelier incident, Lucius had found a valuable tapestry shredded to pieces. He still wasn’t sure if the destroying weapon had been Potter’s claws or Draco’s beak.
But Narcissa was asleep now, and beyond his reach unless he managed to find the perfect book or set of ingredients that he hadn’t found yet. He had time to think about Draco again, to be a father as well as a husband.
“I don’t understand why you want him there. He doesn’t relax you; he doesn’t support you. You scream at each other. He makes you sound as though you resent his every thought that doesn’t revolve around you. How can I help you see that this isn’t the future I wish for you?”
“Well, at one point you thought you my future was best off if I was tied to the Dark Lord, so…”
“I made a mistake,” Lucius said, and from the way Draco looked when Lucius opened his eyes, that was the last thing he expected to hear. “But that makes me more anxious to prevent future mistakes on your part. What comfort or peace do you get from him, Draco? I don’t think he needs to bring wealth or standing to a match with you. I have no concerns on that score. But what does he give you, Draco?”
His son kept looking at him as if he had never seen him before. Lucius held his breath. Perhaps he would get an answer now, and then at least one of his problems would be dealt with.
But then Draco looked away in the fashion he had when he stole one of Lucius’s brooms at ten, and said, “You wouldn’t understand.”
Lucius stood up and crossed the room to him. “I know I haven’t paid as much attention to you in the last few months as I should have, Draco. I’m sorry if you need more, if there’s something I missed that was vital and you wish I was there. But don’t turn to Potter if he’s only a substitute for me.”
“Merlin, but you do hold yourself to a high standard. Of course he’s not.”
Lucius shook his head slowly. He would be forced to let Potter back into his house without an answer, he saw now. Because the need in Draco’s eyes was as raw as a wound, and Lucius couldn’t simply deny it.
“There is one thing, Draco. If I find one more thing damaged, payment is going to come out of your account, and I don’t care if it was you who did the damage or not.”
“Money is of so little account to me, next to him.” Draco beamed. “Thank you, Father.”
He departed, and Lucius walked back and sat down slowly next to the bed. “Don’t die,” he told Narcissa. “Because that would leave Draco and me alone, and I don’t know how in the world we could deal with each other.”
Narcissa breathed, and didn’t answer.
“My mother is dying, and you come to me with this.”
Lucius wanted to bury his head in his hands. He didn’t. That had much more to do with his innate dignity than any hope he was feeling at the moment. He put down his book and went to see what the two eternal teenagers had got up to now.
Potter was standing in the entrance of Draco’s most commonly-used sitting room, his hands folded together. Something in splinters of crystal and glass lay on the floor beside him. He had handed it to Draco and Draco had broken it as a sign of his rejection, Lucius supposed.
Lucius sighed. Honestly, he had raised Draco better than that. One must always be gracious about gifts, no matter the external circumstances.
“I’m sorry, Draco,” Potter whispered. “If I could do anything about it, I would. But there’s only one thing I think could work, and it’s not—it’s not as though anyone alive today could actually do it anyway.”
Lucius paused with one hand on the wall behind Potter’s head. What was Potter talking about? Lucius had found nothing that would work, no potion, no spell, no ritual.
“Tell me what you mean, Mr. Potter,” Lucius said, ahead of Draco’s demand that he do the same. Draco bit his lip and turned to look at the wall. Probably in petty anger that he’d been forestalled, but Lucius had no time right now to do anything about his son’s meanness of soul.
Potter turned to him with a wary look. “It involves soul-magic, Mr. Malfoy,” he said quietly. “But not the kind of soul-magic Vol—the Dark Lord used. You can’t actually split off a piece of your soul and rescue her that way.” Did he see my willingness to do murder for Narcissa in my eyes? Maybe. “What you have to do is use a partial piece of soul that’s already inside you.” He raised his hand and touched his scar. “I could have done it when I was a Horcrux. But I can’t now.”
“What good are you to me, then?”
Lucius saw the way that Draco’s words cut Potter, but he was more interested in something else. “What exactly is it that you could have done?”
Potter licked his lips, cast Draco a longing glance, and then nodded. “I could have entered her dreams. The—threshold where her magical core overlaps with her soul, I suppose is the best thing to call it. She would need to be in a coma for me to do it, so at first I thought that’s what you were trying to do with the Draught of Living Death. Once you’re there, you give up the partial piece of soul and let the thing that’s feeding on her magic take that instead. It would make a better meal. Mr. Malfoy? Are you okay?”
Lucius’s mind had gone backwards to a conversation he had had years ago with Severus, during the months when the Mark had been darkening again and they had known what was coming.
“And you never did learn why the Mark was so powerful, the way you thought you might.”
Severus inclined his head. “No. The only thing I can guess is that the Dark Lord passed a piece of his magic through the Mark when he bound it to our arms. The magic is still there, stronger and Darker than anything we can muster. Even with him—as he is. We have no chance of breaking free unless we are actually stronger than the Dark Lord.”
“Is it only a piece of shattered soul that the magic feeding on Narcissa would find a more tempting meal?” Lucius asked, knowing his words almost blurred from his anxiety. “Or would powerful Dark magic do it as well?” He touched his left arm, so that Potter couldn’t mistake what he meant.
Potter’s mouth fell open, and he looked ungraceful for the first time Lucius could remember that didn’t involve him actually tearing a tapestry. “I—it might. I have no idea.”
“You’ll tell me about the ritual I need to gain access to her mind and magical core,” Lucius said, calm now that his mind was racing with possibilities. Possibilities were more than he’d had a moment before. A minute before. All the hours before. “We’ll give her another Draught of Living Death, to keep her calm. And then I’ll bring her back.”
“The Healers might interfere,” said Potter cautiously.
Lucius smiled at him. “I imagine the reputation of the Chosen One ought to be enough to secure my privacy for the hours it will take.”
He still couldn’t really see what Draco saw in Potter, especially given that he was arguing with him in a furious undertone now, but at least Potter had been useful to Narcissa.
It was the strangest experience of Lucius’s life, like diving in water that he could breathe in.
But not easily. The swirl of magic and power in his lungs, and laughter in his ears, and the weight crushing him down, made him not do that.
The bargain with the thing eating Narcissa was the strangest part of all. Yes, it laughed. And Lucius knew, in the dreamy way he knew music in his dreams that he’d never heard in waking life, that it was part of a curse planted in Narcissa by Bellatrix in case she ever betrayed the Dark Lord.
Such a sweet, loving sister.
The thing was like a salamander. It was like the dead Severus Snape, laughing and snapping at nothing. It was like a dragon, and it coiled around the magic that Lucius tore free of his arm with eagerness and took it down into a blank blue nothingness.
Lucius heard something beating over his head, something like an enormous pendulum that made him turn painfully on his back, floating in the bloody water, and look.
It was Narcissa’s heart.
Lucius knew that, and was sure of that, and then the bloody water washed around him and claimed him again. He gave up his consciousness with a certain relief. He knew where he was going now.
Lucius opened his eyes to a hand in his hair.
He turned painfully around on the cot that Potter had ordered the Healers to set up by the bed, flaunting his title with more magnificence than Lucius was sure he had ever used. Narcissa had been motionless under the Draught when Lucius began to perform the ritual beside the bed, pale from the thing that was eating her magic.
But now she was alive and smiling and awake, her face tinged with a hint of her natural color.
“At some point you will tell me why there is a ring of powdered sapphires around the bed,” she murmured to him.
“At some point you’ll tell me who administered the antidote to the Draught of Living Death when they couldn’t even tell it was working yet,” Lucius said.
But they both knew there was something more important than that, and when she threaded her fingers through his hair and he turned his face into his shoulder, they both knew they had found it.
Lucius slipped out of Narcissa’s hospital room and stood a moment with his head tilted back on the wall and his eyes shut so tightly that they hurt the sides of his face. It was over. That was what he had to remember. Over, and he had triumphed.
He turned to find Draco and tell him the good news, but stopped at the sound of voices. He didn’t recognize them. If the Healers had come back and insisted on trying to treat Narcissa now, then he would send them away to contemplate their future with heads turned backwards on their necks.
But it turned out to be Draco and Potter. Lucius hadn’t recognized their voices because he had never heard them so soft.
Potter stood with his arms wrapped around Draco, who had his head buried in Potter’s chest. Draco was breathing fast enough and dangerously enough that Lucius would have been tempted to intervene anyway, but Potter’s lulling voice said he was handling it.
“It’s going to work, Draco. Your father’s strong. And so’s your mother. They’ll both come back from this, and you’ll have them for a lot of years yet.”
“You say that like you could be sure of it,” Draco whispered, but there was no venom in his voice.
“I am sure of it,” Potter said, absolutely steady. “Because of what I told you. And the way your father just memorized the procedure for the ritual in ten minutes flat. I know he can do it.”
Lucius stared. He had not known Potter’s hands were capable of cradling Draco’s temples and hair instead of trying to tear them off. He hadn’t thought Potter would ever try to shelter Draco against the world instead of expose him to it.
Was it only Narcissa’s danger that had changed things for them? The minute Draco knew she was recovered, would they go back to chasing each other around the house again?
And then, after a moment, Lucius thought he understood. The fights were part of their lives, but the fights were about things that didn’t matter that much or that they could put aside. Other than the moment when Draco had destroyed the gift Potter had brought him, Lucius had never heard them fight about Narcissa’s illness.
Or the war, he remembered now. Or blood purity, or politics, or Potter’s career. It’s all—petty things. Decorations and jealousy and namecalling.
Maybe, as long as Draco and Potter could be there for each other in the large matters of their lives, Lucius could stop worrying that they would destroy themselves.
Abruptly, Potter’s eyes flickered up and caught Lucius’s. He frowned, as if silently demanding to know how long Lucius had been spying on them. Lucius only shook his head back and announced, “Narcissa will live. She’s awake now, if you want to speak with her.”
He deliberately made sure that the invitation included both of them, a token he was glad of when Draco grabbed Potter’s arm and started hauling him down the corridor. He was snapping and snarling about how Potter should look his mother in the eyes and smile, instead of looking down the way he usually did.
Potter smiled as he listened.
Yes, Lucius thought as he stood there and felt the expansion of his life around him like sunlight. It really is going to be all right.