Lucius was there when it happened. There to watch with grim delight as his lord and master faced down the Potter family at long last. There when delight turned to horror, when the elder Potters fell but the infant did not. There when Voldemort's curse reflected back on him and everything they had been working for crumbled with him.

It took a moment to believe what he was seeing, another to understand what it meant. The wretched child had beaten them, this war was over, and he was suddenly vulnerable like he had never imagined being.

Lucius had never been one to linger when disaster struck. An abrupt nod to the masked man he knew was Crabbe and he Disapparated straight off, not to be caught at the scene when the Aurors inevitably arrived. To remove the temptation to wallow and rage at the loss.

Crabbe could not be trusted with complex tasks, but he could execute simple ones without fail. He would get word to the right person, and that person could get word to other people, and Lucius's tracks, such as they were, would be effectively covered. His assets preserved. Voldemort's leadership had only expanded his aspirations, after all; it was not the sum total of them.

As for his status, that he would have to attend to himself.

From the moment his Lord fell, Lucius knew he was in no fit state to handle his affairs. The scorched oak near to where he'd been hiding stood testament to that. He could not, would not, return home like this. The chaos that was sure to erupt momentarily, however, bought him time.

But he would remember this state, this deep-seated panic, this fluttering, shaking, devastated disbelief; in the corner of his mind that was still calculating, he suspected it would be most convincing, when he later protested his innocence.

Lucius Apparated into an narrow alley off Knockturn and quickly stripped off his costume. With only a momentary pang of regret he destroyed it. He could not deny what he had been and what he had done, but he could show horror and regret. They ashes fell around his feet and melted into the rivults of water running between the cobblestones. He stepped over them quickly and was on his way.

From this point on, there was no looking back.

The door was solid, old oak with a Chinese Fireball carved into it just above eye level. If you didn't know precisely what you were looking for you were sure to pass right by with neither recognition nor curiosity. Lucius swept inside, underrobes swirling around his feet; the door closed silently behind him.

"Rossignoli!" he called out, rapping his knuckles impatiently on the filthy wall as he entered. "Where are you, you old hag?"

"Hush, Signore Malfoy," said the woman who stepped out of the shadows to greet him. "We will find space for you. Do not disturb the others." He would disturb the others if he pleased; their comfort was secondary to his own. "It has been too long since you visited us."

Too long indeed. And were it not for the events of this evening, it would have been longer still, he was sure. "I have a family now," he said simply, though he owed her no explanations, true or otherwise. "I have duties."

"Of course you do," she said silkily, and crooked a finger at him. Lucius fixed his eyes on those fingers, stained dark from her work -- her art, she would say -- as she led him to a worn pallet trimmed in dull gold. "You will be serviced at your leisure."

Rossignoli did none of that herself, leaving it to her servants. She silently returned to the shadows, and from there to her fire and the preparation of the elixir for which he'd come. She wasn't missed.

A house-elf popped into existence at his side as he made himself comfortable; his battle-heightened reflexes had a wand at its throat before the obsequious wretch could even offer its services.

"Kob is bringing master his tray," he said in a quavering voice. "Kob will prepare master's opium for him." Lucius sheathed the wand and nodded at him, clenching shaking hands at his sides.

"Be quick," he said. "I haven't the time for incompetence."

"Kob is knowing Master Malfoy is a respected patron. Kob has brought him our finest jade pipe."

Lucius very nearly knocked the tray from his hands and onto the stone floor. "The bamboo," he insisted icily.

"But Master Malfoy, the jade is--"

Kob was interrupted by another house elf, who deftly grabbed the odious jade pipe and replaced it with a darkened bamboo. "Do what Master wishes," he hissed at his companion. "Topsy is apologising for Kob, sir. Kob is not understanding--"

"Topsy will be serving me," said Lucius without another look at them, and trusted these wishes, too, would be observed instantly. The audacity, to send him an untrained house-elf.

"Topsy will do whatever Master wishes," the remaining elf said as it lit the small oil lamp with a snap of its fingers. Lucius had already forgotten the other's name. "Would Master like Topsy to cook his opium for him?"

"Most certainly not." Lucius turned his nose up at the wire provided on the tray, instead putting a stiletto from his boot and winding a pearl of opium onto the end before holding it in the flame himself. This was not work, this was craft. Even before his first taste he became more focused, his hands steadier.

He had himself in a half reclined position again by the time it was toasted to his satisfaction. Stuffing the drug into the clay pot with the stiletto, he sucked on the pipe, swallowing down the smoke again and again until there was none left to have. Only then did he let go, his exhalation wasting none of it.

Topsy took the pipe from him when he relaxed back into the mat, the evening's activities not gone but more distant now. Like watching them in a pensieve, as though they belonged to someone else entirely. The defeat of his Dark Lord was something he watched dispassionately from afar, it no longer left him feeling like someone had disembowelled him.

Even as he lay there things were being set in motion that would ensure a safe retreat from his current position. Things that may have borne traces of his influence, but could not be tracked directly back to him. Though haste was the order of the evening, his future relied upon this being handled exactly right, and that handling required him to bide his time, to not give anything away.

Most of all it required him to not panic, to not, in rage or grief, destroy what was left of his power structure. There were things he still meant to accomplish, despite the fall of the figurehead that united them all.

What kind of world would his son grow up in, if the Muggle-lovers ultimately won? Would he be cared for? Would he be safe? The events of his world's past association with Muggles passed through his mind, a parade of horrors. To subject his son to that would be unimaginable.

To fail in this thing, above all else, was unthinkable.

He lifted the stiletto, twining more of the opium around it, as the house-elf brought the fire back to life and handed him the well-seasoned pipe. His hands didn't shake at all, this time, not even as he swallowed down the smoke and held it inside him as long as he was able.

Right now Godric's Hollow, that quaint, repugnant little village, would be anarchy. The Potters were well-liked; the grief and confusion would be tremendous. The thought was almost enough to bring a smile to his face, almost enough to make up for his own loss.

The Potters, damn them, meant to bring about the ruin of the wizarding world. Opposing the Dark Lord indeed, as though they couldn't see the devastation their actions would result in, the risk the Muggles and Mudbloods posed. But then, Potter's wife was a Mudblood herself, wasn't she. And that child... that blasted child.

He motioned for the elf to return with a flick of his wrist and let his eyes droop halfway closed as he banished the memory of the Potter brat. But not so closed he couldn't see the dark figure striding into the room.

"No more," he said, long, cool fingers closing around Lucius's wrist. "We must go."

"Not yet," insisted Lucius, remaining reclined on the soft pillow. "Things are not ready for me yet."

"Now," said Snape. "Lucius, it's madness out there, the Aurors are swarming Diagon. If you don't go now, you won't be able to go at all. Do you want them to find you here?"

"Would that be so bad?" he said. "Better here than a hundred more incriminating places."

"And still better elsewhere than here," Snape reminded him. "I received word your accounts are safe. Narcissa and your son are home. Go to them, Lucius."

Snape was as tense as Lucius had been before he'd come here, but it worked on him. It kept him edgy, on top of everything. It was a fault, Lucius knew, that he himself could not do the same, in these circumstances.

"And you?" said Lucius, seeing the wisdom of his words and pulling himself upright. He waved that blasted elf away, and it vanished, tray and all, immediately. "Do you have plans?"

"I am taken care of," said Severus shortly. Lucius could not read his expression, hard as he tried. It hadn't been nearly this difficult, when they had been younger. "I am putting this behind me, Lucius."

Something they all had to do, to some extent, to be able to move on. He nodded his head and then called, "Rossignoli!" She took longer to appear this time, but nonetheless she did. "Take us through the back way."

She looked from Lucius to Severus and her eyes narrowed, but she nodded. And once Lucius handed her a galleon, far more than he owed her, she was quick to charm open the back wall, revealing a long, dark tunnel.

"Lumos," said Severus, and gave her a curt nod.

"It lets out in back of the Pig and Whistle," she told them. "You can Apparate from there without drawing attention. Go!"

She clearly saw the urgency that Lucius did not; it was her prompting more than Snape's insistence that got him moving quickly down the tunnel, Severus right at his back. The tunnel let out in an alley Lucius was barely familiar with, but it didn't matter where they were, only where they were going.

"To the manor," he told Severus, and trusted he would follow when Lucius instantly Apparated away. He did, appearing only a moment behind. "Can I offer you a drink?"

Severus looked through the gates towards the distant manor and shook his head. "Be safe, Lucius. They'll be out to get you."

"I know how to take care of myself," Lucius assured him. He already was, after all. The threat still seemed somewhat distant, the effects of the opium still flooding his awareness. Severus just nodded at him, unsmiling.

"This will be the last thing I do for you, Lucius," he said. And he left him there at the gates of his manor, Disapparating with a crack that echoed off the hills.

Lucius knew that was an easy thing to say in the heat of the moment when the world seemed to be crumbling around them. And knew just as surely that it was a lie.

He walked up the road to his home rather than using the Portkey tucked safely in his waistcoat pocket, kissed his wife hello and held his sleeping son. At dawn he would present himself to the Ministry and construct the rest of his life.

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