Characters: The extended Malfoy family, others
Word Count: 6517
Summary: Lucius has problems other than nifflers, and no decent male friend with whom to share them.
Disclaimer: This work of fan fiction is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling and owned by J. K. Rowling and various publishers, including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made from (and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended by) the posting of this fan work.
Author's Note: a_boleyn prompted me with Gringotts, goblin, niffler; I supplied the other characters. This fic takes place in the universe of the Thoroughly Inappropriate Series (see relevant tag below). Thank you, shiv5468, for beta'ing.
No wizard in his prime desired to be known as "Great Uncle" anything, and Lucius was no exception. Fortunately for his pride, if not his dignity, "Great Uncle Lucius" had proved too much for Roger to say when he'd been learning to speak, so he'd shortened the phrase accordingly. Lucius had deigned to answer to the resultant appellation because it so delighted the children, who applied it to him with affection; the same, however, could not always be said of Narcissa.
"Don't fret, dear," he overheard her say, just before he entered the breakfast room. "I'm certain 'the Ghoul' won't mind watching the children on the day. He's nothing better to do, after all."
Lucius paused on the threshold; it wasn't unusual for Narcissa to arrange his social calendar, but she rarely did so without first consulting him unless she was vexed. What have I done, now? he wondered, proceeding into the room. "Good morning, ladies."
"Good morning," Astoria greeted him.
Narcissa nodded. "Lucius."
As his usual fare was set before him by the house-elf, he said, "Surely the nanny could watch the children on the day in question?"
"Ten July," Astoria supplied. "It's the date of the Society of Magical Horticulturalists' annual gardening competition."
"Dear Everett is hoping for a success in the Allium category, and the children really are too young to attend," Narcissa added.
"What has that to do with me?" Lucius asked, stabbing a mushroom with his fork. "If you must all go watch Blake be disappointed again, why not simply leave the children with the nanny?"
Astoria smiled. "We give Annette Saturdays off."
Lucius chewed his food slowly, looking at Narcissa, whose own smile was tight and chill. I just allowed you to drag me to an eighth remembrance ceremony for the bloody fallen, so what could possibly have— "Yes, but what of the house-elf?"
Astoria frowned. "Thank you, Biddy, that will be all for now."
"I couldn't possibly leave Scorpius with only Biddy here to look after him."
His daughter-in-law's reluctance to allow the house-elf to look after Scorpius when no one else was at home had always confused Lucius, but he knew better than to remark upon it.
"In any case," Narcissa said crisply, "I'm sure that your old friends will forgive you for cancelling an engagement for the sake of your family."
Astoria promptly took up the Prophet and hid her face behind it.
Old friends? thought Lucius. Oh, bugger. "Narcissa, you know I'm attending the Aethonon races that Saturday."
"We did discuss it, and I can't find it reasonable that you should suddenly object to my spending time with Parkinson and the lads."
"Can't you? The anniversary was only a fortnight ago, and people haven't forgotten the trials."
"Michael was pardoned, dear."
"So were you, darling, after surrendering the vast majority of our holdings."
"I'd best look in on Scorpius."
In Astoria's wake, Lucius asked, "He's no better?"
"He is, but Astoria felt it best that he rest this morning."
"Inspecting the onions at Pleasant House with Everett."
"Because if Everett can perfect the White Tickets, they'll have magiceutical applications. You know how interested Draco is in bringing to market a potion that could cure influenza, and if anyone can provide the basis for such a potion, it's our—"
"Goodness, is that jealousy I hear?"
"Certainly not. Blake's clearly as besotted with his wife as the day he married her, and Daphne obviously feels the same way about him."
"Yes, she's a lucky woman."
"A lucky young woman," Lucius snapped, immediately regretting it as Narcissa rose from the table and sailed from the room.
He hadn't meant to be cruel; he loved Narcissa as much as any man could love his wife, but her renewed concern over their social standing and constant barbs had at last put him out of patience with her.
You really shouldn't have twitted her about her age, particularly when . . . .
Lucius sighed; he had no desire to consider the cause of the enmity between Narcissa and himself. There was nothing to be done about it.
But I really must find some way of making it up to her.
For the moment, his wisest course was clear: nanny or no nanny, he would just have to cancel his plans and accept the fact that he would be playing the servant while everyone else was indulging in their ridiculous fascination for onions.
"Granfa!" Scorpius exclaimed, throwing himself around Lucius' legs on the day of the competition. "Daddy says I can do the weeding . . . for a whole Galleon!"
Lucius patted his head. "I beg your pardon?"
"He wants to learn about the herbs, and so do Roger and Eileen, so I thought you could supervise them while—"
"Wouldn't you rather go to Fortescue's?" Lucius interrupted Draco to ask the children.
"Yes!" Roger said.
"But Mummy says no cows, Rog," Eileen told him.
"Why on earth not?" Lucius asked Daphne, as he watched Narcissa greet Blake with warmth.
"Well, it does make them sniffly, but I suppose—"
"Oh, no, of course we understand about the dairy issue," Astoria told Daphne.
"Come and kiss me goodbye, little ones," Narcissa said. "Your parents and I really must be going."
"Lucius," said Blake, extending his hand in greeting.
Lucius took it. "Old boy."
Blake smirked and moved to join Daphne by the fireplace, where Narcissa was just rising from receiving her kisses. She did not, apparently, find it necessary to receive one from him, and soon, he was left alone in the entrance hall with two excited little boys and one pleasantly composed, if anxious-looking, little girl.
"You don't want to help with the herbs?" he asked Eileen.
"I brought a book, Ghoul," she replied, biting her lip.
Lucius laughed. "Of course you did, and I suppose it doesn't have any pictures?"
Eileen drew herself up proudly. "Not as many as in Rog's books."
"And do they move, these pictures?"
"'Course they do."
"Excellent." He ruffled her hair, pleased to see that Daphne wasn't allowing her husband's unfortunate background to interfere with Eileen's proper upbringing. "Well, why don't you take your book to the library. It won't get dirty in there."
Grinning at him, Eileen traipsed off.
"I suppose the both of you were promised one whole Galleon a piece for the pleasure of weeding Draco's herbs?"
Roger nodded, and Scorpius grabbed his hand, running off and calling over his shoulder, "We'll beat you!"
"Yes, I daresay you will," Lucius murmured, following the four-year-olds at a more sedate pace.
He regretted it the moment he joined Scorpius and Roger, whom he found kneeling before a hole amongst the herbs.
"Is it alive?"
"Don't know, Rog. It's warm."
"Don't touch it."
"But it's shiver—"
"Roger's right, Scorpius," Lucius said, looking at the small black-furred creature they'd found. "Ah, a niffler. I'll just deal with—"
"No!" Scorpius cried, grabbing Lucius' wand arm. "Don't hurt it!"
"It's little more than a pup. It won't survive without its mother, and in any case, nifflers are pests."
"You wouldn't really hurt it, would you, Ghoul?" Roger asked, his eyes shining.
"No, of course not. I'll just put it somewhere safe while the two of you look for its mother."
"Did I not just say that I'd put it somewhere safe?"
"Yes, I promise."
"Not to hurt it?" Scorpius persisted.
Bugger. "Goodness, boy, you sound like a solicitor. Yes, I promise that I won't hurt it. Satisfied?"
The boys nodded.
"Then go look for the pup's mother while I figure out what to do with it."
"What?" Lucius asked the house-elf.
"Biddy could be taking the niffler for you, Master Malfoy."
"Have you been spying on me?" he asked testily.
At once, she began pulling and twisting her lip.
"Not in front of the children, elf!"
"Don't hurt yourself, Biddy!" called Scorpius.
"Try over there, in the bushes," Lucius told Scorpius and Roger, knowing that they'd be safer the farther away from the niffler hole they got. He turned back to Biddy. "Take this creature somewhere where it will be," he said, with a glance at the boys, "safe, somewhere it will remain."
Lucius sighed. It was bad enough that Narcissa had given him servant's work without trusting him to do it unsupervised. But now I'm to play zoo keeper as well as nanny. He looked down at the niffler hole. That won't do at all.
As the boys called for "Mama Niffler," Lucius Summoned his writing materials and dashed off a quick note to Gringotts.
Crackthorne arrived promptly at noon while Lucius and the children were taking luncheon on the terrace—in spite of just having returned from Fortescue's. Lucius had felt it best to amuse the children away from the manor lest they insist upon visiting with the niffler after all their weeding and reading had been accomplished.
He excused himself from the table and walked a little away from it with Crackthorne, to whom he quickly explained matters.
"So you see, not only must the little rodent be reunited with its mother, the burrow must also be found and cleared. I can't have nifflers on the property. Indeed, I can't think why there are nifflers on the property given the various enchantments my son has laid upon his garden."
Crackthorne grunted. "Perhaps a wizarding prank?"
"That is not the case, I assure you."
"Perhaps Mr Malfoy's son isn't adept at certain enchantments?"
Lucius raised an eyebrow.
"No matter. You are a valued client, so for a reasonable fee, I can see to it that the deed is done."
"A fee?" But you use nifflers all the time. Surely you'll accept the mischief as payment for their removal."
"Surely I will not. Gringotts' nifflers are specially raised and trained, so your garden-variety 'nosing' would be of no use to us. For a reasonable fee, however, I will arrange their removal and destruction."
"As it happens," Lucius replied, with a quick glance at the children, "I don't want the creatures destroyed, just removed."
Crackthorne raised his eyebrows in that way goblins had of making a wizard feel foolish. "'Placement' will require more effort, and thus, an additional fee. You will pay twenty Galleons for the removal, and thirty, for the placement."
Fifty Galleons? Lucius thought, frowning. "Oh, very well," he told Crackthorne, unwilling to appear even more ridiculous to him than he most likely already did. "How soon can you arrange matters?"
"Where is the pup?"
Biddy floated towards them. "Biddy has put the niffler in a basket in the shiny garden."
"The 'shiny garden'?" asked Lucius, his eyes widening in horror. "Do you mean to tell me that you put that creature in Narcissa's rose garden?"
Biddy's ears drooped. "Master Malfoy told Biddy to put the niffler somewhere it would remain, and Biddy was thinking the niffler wouldn't leave the shiny gar—"
"Double bugger fuck!" Lucius exclaimed, as he achieved Narcissa's garden to find no trace of the golden placards which displayed the names of her cultivars—but that was not the source of his alarm. Gone. All gone.
Narcissa's pride and joy, her silver rose bushes, the ones she'd developed to celebrate their marriage, lay uprooted and denuded of their every petal around him. Lucius dropped to his knees and stared blindly at their remains.
"Granfa Ghoul! Are you okay?"
"Where is it?" Lucius demanded of Biddy. He drew his wand. "Where is that thrice-damned niffler?"
"H—here, Master Malfoy," Biddy told him, moving to hover over the basket.
It held not just the pup but an entire mischief of nifflers, who were curled up together in a nest of what appeared to be every last silver petal and golden placard.
"How the hell did its dam find it?" Lucius asked, rising to his feet and aiming his wand at the basket, heedless of the children's gasps.
"It might interest you to know that the root balls of some of these bushes are intact," Crackthorne said, "and I believe that the garden could be set to rights again."
"For a 'reasonable fee', I presume?" Lucius asked, glaring at the sleeping rodents.
"Oh, Biddy is a bad house-elf, bad!"
"No, Biddy!" Scorpius protested, grabbing the elf's hands.
His grandson's distress made Lucius remember himself. "Take the children back to the terrace at once."
"But we want to stay," Roger told him.
"And help!" added Eileen, stepping in between Lucius and the basket.
"You won't hurt the nifflers, will you? If we help fix the garden?" asked Roger, taking his sister's hand. "Even Eileen will help, and she hates getting dirty!"
Bugger! Lucius sheathed his wand. Not in front of the children. He took a deep breath, released it, and then looked expectantly at Crackthorne.
"The assistance of the children will not be necessary."
"Given how much I'm going to be paying you, I think that it will be."
Crackthorne regarded him levelly. "Very well, but—don't touch that," he told the children, as they clustered around the nifflers' basket.
"Did I not tell you to take the children back to the terrace?" Lucius asked Biddy.
"I'll send for you when it's time to help," Lucius told Scorpius. "Now go."
"Come littles," said Biddy, leading her reluctant charges away.
"You were saying, Crackthorne?"
"Only that the children might make the task take longer than I expect you'd like it to."
"Just . . . just have them gather up all the petals for potpourri. That should keep them well enough out of your way."
"As you wish. As to how the dam found her lost pup, it called to her."
"Nifflers have a call?"
"Of course they do, Mr Malfoy, one that cannot be heard by goblin or wizard ears. When a lost pup thrusts its head into the earth and calls to its mother, its vibration carries for quite a long distance."
"Lovely," Lucius replied, not giving a damn. "How long will it take before—"
"Lucius Malfoy, what have you done?"
Crack! Crack! Crack! Crack!
"—can explain," Lucius said, cringing as Draco, Astoria, Daphne, and Blake Apparated into the garden.
"You did this!" Narcissa shouted, rounding on him. "You . . . you did this to punish me!"
"I did no such—"
"Yes, you did! You . . . you crack'd the cauldron so that I'd never ask you to watch the children again! You horrible man!" Narcissa burst into tears and fled.
Lucius closed his eyes in mortification, thinking, with an absurd degree of calmness under the circumstances, "Crack'd the cauldron"—now there's a phrase I haven't heard in a long time, and then, unable to bear the stares of the others, he stalked off to the library with every intention of drinking himself into a stupor.
Sometime later, a soft whooshing sound told him that he'd been followed. He looked up from his glass. "Ah, Blake, how nice of you to join me."
Arse, Lucius thought, nodding at the bottle sitting next to him. "Help yourself."
"Thank you," Blake replied, pouring himself a finger of Ogden's and taking the other chair before the hearth. "Crackthorne's engaged a landscaping concern to tend to Narcissa's garden."
"Recommended by the Society of Magical Horticulturalists, no doubt?"
"Whom did he engage?"
Blake's mouth twitched. "Longbottom's Landscaping."
Lucius frowned. "You must have that wrong. The Longbottom boy would never—"
"Crackthorne promised to triple Mr Longbottom's usual fee."
"Of course he did." Lucius took a long swallow of his drink. "That damned goblin had better have found something for the children to do."
"He has. Thank you for thinking to include them."
Annoyed, Lucius snapped, "They were never in any danger, and—"
"I meant what I said. I appreciate your allowing Eileen and Roger to help. Roger feels responsible for the niffler."
Blake's graciousness irritated Lucius still further. If Severus were here, he'd blame me. "'Crack'd the cauldron', indeed."
"Interesting turn of phrase."
"It was something a friend of mine used to say," said Lucius, wishing that Blake, who was nothing like Severus, would go away.
"Is that anything like 'bleached the laundry'?" Blake asked.
"So I was given to understand."
Blake snorted. "As much as you're able to, I suppose."
Lucius, now perversely vexed by how much Blake did suddenly sound like Severus, whom he found himself missing—Severus had always known how to manage Narcissa when she was in a temper—glared at him.
Blake held up a hand. "I didn't come to row. I merely wanted you to know that the garden isn't completely ruined. In a few weeks, Narcissa will most likely forgive you when she sees her roses blooming again."
"I didn't intend for it to happen."
"Of course you didn't."
"Bloody nifflers!" Lucius exclaimed.
"At least you were here to find them."
"Ha! And not at the Aethonon races, you mean?"
Blake sighed. "Lucius, I don't pretend that we're friends, but—"
"—as we are family, perhaps you'd like to discuss what's on your mind?"
"Besides the fact that my wife is furious with me?"
"Yes. Why is that?"
It was a ridiculous, impertinent question, but Lucius was inebriated enough to answer it. "She thinks I purposefully destroyed her—"
"Lucius, Daphne tells me that things haven't been right between you and Narcissa for weeks."
"How women will gossip, but if it's all the same to you, Everett, I'd prefer not to discuss my marriage with someone so wholly unconnected to it."
"But I am. Family, remember? And the children—"
"Should have been with the nanny!" Lucius exclaimed, immediately ashamed of himself. He loved the children and enjoyed spending time with them. But the more time with them I spend, the more Narcissa wants—
"The children," Blake continued, "are beginning to detect the tension between you and Narcissa. Because of that, Daphne and I feel that it would be best if Scorpius' visits with Eileen and Roger took place at Pleasant House until the two of you sort yourselves out."
Lucius' eyes widened in amazement. "A few frosty, overheard exchanges aren't going to harm anyone."
"I beg to differ. It's not natural to hear a four-year-old use 'darling' as a term of derision."
"Who did that?"
"Eileen said it to Roger after he annoyed her recently, and that's harm enough for me. I don't want my children exposed to that kind of bitterness."
"Then take it up with Narcissa!"
"I don't think you'd appreciate it if I did," Blake told him, staring at him intently.
Lucius looked away and refilled his glass. "I am not jealous of you. I have no cause to be."
"That's true enough."
Something in Blake's tone made Lucius suspect that the man was humouring him. "Have you, by chance, been elected to play counsellor to me?"
"I don't require nursemaiding. Narcissa and I . . . Narcissa is . . . just what have you been whispering with Narcissa about so much of late?"
"Has it never occurred to you to ask her?"
"A man should be able to attend a horse race or two after being forced to accompany his wife to Healer after Heal—" Lucius flushed and stopped speaking. He was not discussing that with anyone. Must stop drinking now, he thought, feeling muddle-headed.
"Ah, that would explain it, then."
"Just what do you mean by that?"
Blake cleared his throat. "Narcissa's been asking me what I know about various conception- and pregnancy-related potions. . . . Were there complications with Draco's conception?"
"I have no desire to—"
"Have another child?"
As beyond impertinent as Blake's question was, Lucius found himself answering it. "Narcissa and I always wanted a large family, but carrying Draco was damnably hard on her, and . . . and I expect you of all people to understand."
"Yes, completely. After Eileen and Roger were born," Blake said, pausing for a moment before continuing, "I took steps to ensure that I would never get Daphne with child again."
"You did what?" Lucius asked in astonishment. Blake was an affable man, but he'd certainly never been so open with him before. "I can't imagine that your decision sat well with her."
"That's putting it mildly. Is Narcissa troubled by a similar concern?"
"What? No, I would never mess with my bits, but Narcissa does want another baby and won't let the matter drop. She's . . . she's certain that if she can only find the right Healer or potion she'll be able to carry another child to term."
"I take it that you don't share her confidence."
"No, and she can't forgive me for it."
"If Narcissa's bearing issues were properly addressed, there's no reason that she couldn't safely carry another child to term. She's only fifty-one."
"So she keeps telling me, but we haven't found anyone who could adequately address them since . . . ."
Blake pulled something from his robes and handed it to Lucius.
"'Towards Alleviating Difficult Births'," Lucius said, recognising the article at once. "This is about Severus' potion, the one that almost killed my wife! Did Narcissa give this to you?"
"It's my own copy. I've long been familiar with Snape's work."
"Then you know it won't do. As grateful as I am for Draco, there's no way that I'd ever allow Narcissa to use Snape's potion again."
"And quite right, too," said Blake, "but I am not Severus Snape, and my own work with this class of potion is far superior than his ever was—and I say that as his former associate."
"You knew Severus?" Lucius asked, his hand tightening on the article.
"Not as well as I might have," Blake said, reaching for the article, which Lucius handed to him, "but we corresponded, and having recently had cause to review that correspondence with regard to his potion—"
"Aha! Narcissa did put you up to—"
"—I've determined where he went wrong with it."
"No," Lucius repeated. "Narcissa has a son, a grandson, a great-niece, and a great-nephew. She doesn't need another child."
Blake set his glass on the table and leaned back in his chair, looking as though he had every intention of remaining in it for some time.
Enough, Lucius thought, saying, "I tolerate you for Daphne and the children's sake, but as you rightly pointed out, we're not friends. Do go away."
"How interesting that you don't mark Eileen and Roger as inferior in the same way you do me. I've always wondered at it."
Blake's obvious lack of respect for him made Lucius want to hex him, but he didn't dare. It had been a long, emasculating three years, the ones he'd spent without a wand by Wizengamot decree after the Dark Lord's fall.
"And you do care for the children," continued Blake, "I know that, so it's difficult for me to understand why you continue to despise me. My children and I share the same blood, after all."
"The children will be properly reared," Lucius replied, hating himself for the petulance in his tone, "but you . . . you're not of our set, not one of the lads."
"Thank Merlin for that," Blake replied equably.
Lucius glared into his glass. And to think, I might have been at the races today rather than being subjected the impertinences of a Mud—
He sighed and stopped his nasty thought, having promised Narcissa, after the Blakes had at last deigned to visit the manor after several years of marriage, that he wouldn't even think ill of Daphne's husband. In truth, he didn't actually despise Blake—he was a stimulating Wizard's Chess partner, intelligent, well read, and usually given to pleasant conversation, no matter his liberal views—but Lucius couldn't help but wonder how a man like him had managed to acquire a Greengrass for a bride. Blake was nothing like his friends or their sons, men whom any properly-reared pure-blood girl might be expected to happily marry.
No, not happily, Lucius thought, thinking of the lads. Michael's a violent, gambling-addicted lecher who won't take responsibility for his bastards. Edward never should have married a witch, and Giancarlo's . . . Giancarlo's a freak.
It was a reasonable thing to think of a man who'd once got himself banned from wizarding Britain for necromantical practices.
Lucius set his glass aside, suddenly feeling foolish, foolish and useless and low; in spite of that, he was still surprised when he found himself saying, to Blake of all people, "I don't . . . like my friends."
Blake raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
"But I won't have you speak ill of them," Lucius added, not certain what else to say.
"I believe that we were speaking of the children."
"You're not seriously going to keep Narcissa away from them, are you?"
"You're both welcome to visit Pleasant House . . . upon occasion."
"Damn it! You're being bloody ridiculous!"
"I'm being a responsible father. I'm sorry that you and Narcissa are having difficulties, but I won't allow them to become mine." Blake rose. "If you'll excuse me, I have to be getting back to the competition. The Allium category is being judged at half past four, and I've persuaded the ladies to allow the children to come with us."
"I thought they were helping in the garden?"
"They've gathered enough petals for one day, I think."
"Blake, why did you come back, anyway?"
"Because," he said, as he opened the door, "Narcissa was missing you and thought we all might have lunch together."
Lucius closed his eyes. Bugger.
When he was certain that the others had gone, Lucius cast a sobering charm on himself and made his way sulkily to the garden, where he found several cheerful young people hard at work restoring it. Of Crackthorne, the nifflers, or Longbottom, he saw no sign, but a rosy-cheeked witch approached him at once.
"Good afternoon, Mr Malfoy. I'm Hetty James." She offered him a dirt-covered hand to shake, only to pull it back. "Oh!"
"How nice to meet you, Miss James," Lucius replied, obviously startling her as he took her hand. "You seem to have made excellent progress."
"The damage wasn't that bad," she said, sweeping her gaze around the garden. "Of course, we can't take the chance of charming the Rosa argentum bushes back into bloom as we did with the others, but they should flower on their own within a few weeks." She wiped her hands on her trousers. "I hope you're pleased?"
"I believe that my husband would have been more pleased if he hadn't run afoul of the mischief of nifflers this morning, but yes, dear, you're doing splendid work. Please don't allow us to interrupt you."
Narcissa took Lucius' arm and led him out onto the lawn.
"Narcissa, I did not purposefully release that niffler into your garden."
"I know that."
"I'm truly sorry about the roses."
"I expect you are."
Lucius sighed. "Why haven't you returned to the competition?"
Narcissa continued to lead him away from the house but said nothing.
"Surely you want to be there to comfort Blake when—"
"His name is Everett, Lucius!" Narcissa exclaimed, releasing him.
"I know his name."
"Then why not call him by—"
"How could you have asked him about the potion? We've discussed matters. You cannot—"
"Who are you to tell me what I can or cannot do? It's my body, my life, and—"
Lucius seized Narcissa by the shoulders. "Our life, Narcissa! It's our life, and it won't work without you."
She jerked out of his grasp. "But it isn't working, Lucius!"
"How can you say that? We have each other, our family, our home!"
"Oh, yes," she spat, "our home, which no one will visit because—"
"Would you have preferred it," Lucius interrupted her, clenching his fists, "if I'd not fought to save it?"
"Of course not, but . . . but now Draco and Astoria are talking about finding a place of their own!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"They don't like our fighting. They . . . they agree with Everett and Daphne that it's not g—good for the children. Lucius, they're going to leave us—like everyone else! They're going to leave us all a—alone." Narcissa crumpled to the ground in tears. "You . . . you'll leave, too—because I'm old! Too . . . too old for children."
"No," Lucius said, throwing himself down next to Narcissa and gathering her into his arms, "don't say that. You're not too—"
"Then why won't . . . you give me . . . a—another child?"
Lucius held Narcissa more tightly and rocked her against him while she cried, unable to answer her.
"I wasn't a bad m—mother."
"No, you weren't, but . . . ."
"B—but what?" Narcissa asked, rolling away from him into the grass.
Lucius did likewise and looked blindly up at the sky. "Perhaps it's because I have doubts about my own parenting."
"There's nothing wrong with our son," Narcissa insisted, sounding a bit more like herself.
"Yes, but I can't think that that had much to do with me. Besides, you want a girl."
"So what if I do?"
"The world is so different, now, Narcissa, it's changing. It's no place for a girl."
Narcissa sat up and wiped her eyes. "What sort of nonsense is that?"
"You would be content to raise a daughter now? Now, when the best of our kind seem content to marry beneath themselves?"
"Merlin, Lucius. You might at least try not to sound like a bigot. Everett's a fine man, and Daphne's—"
"Happy with him, yes, I know, but if she were our daughter, would you be as pleased for her?"
"Yes, I would be."
"I don't believe you. In fact, I don't understand why you've . . . taken such a fancy to her husband."
"You are jealous of Everett. Admit it."
"I won't," said Lucius, "because I'm not. I just don't understand how you could have so wholly embraced a man who's . . . who's perhaps no better or worse than your own sister's husband was."
"Rodolphus was an imbecile."
"You know very well I'm speaking of Tonks."
"I never knew Theodore," Narcissa said, "and I have no wish to speak of the man who stole Andy from me."
Lucius snorted. "We're both of us bigots, my dear, and yet you'd have us bring another child into a world in which she'd have no true place. The old ways are gone."
"Nonsense, it's the madness that's gone—and good riddance! I never wanted a Dark Lord. I never wanted anything to do with him. It's you who—"
Narcissa fell silent, glaring at him. Lucius sighed.
"All of us made mistakes, Narcissa, all of us. Admit that."
"Admit that you're jealous of Everett, and perhaps I will."
"I don't like how much you enjoy his company."
"He doesn't brood," Narcissa replied tartly.
"Cannot a man brood when life holds little to recommend itself to him?"
"Thank you for that."
"I don't mean you, and you know it. I mean . . . the company I keep."
"You could spend more time getting to know Everett. You have things in common, you know."
Lucius did know that but wasn't inclined to admit to it, so he said nothing.
"It's odd that you're so stubborn on the subject of Everett given your friendship with Severus."
"Severus was different."
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing. How is Everett so different from Severus?"
"He's too fucking cheerful."
"For a man who's as depressed as you claim to be, perhaps a bit of cheer would do you good—certainly more so than gambling and drinking would do. You used to have so many interests."
"Unfortunately, our set isn't given to sharing them with me."
"Then perhaps," said Narcissa, rolling over to look at him, "we need to find a better class of friends. There, I said it."
"I can't believe that you did," Lucius told her, rolling up on one arm.
"As you said, the world is changing. Perhaps I'd like to change with it. What's wrong with that?"
Lucius reached out to stroke Narcissa's hair. "Do you truly believe there's a place for us in it?"
"Draco's made one for himself. He has his firm. He's well liked by most people."
Lucius leaned back on his elbows. "Yes, a pledge to employ anyone regardless of . . . heritage will have that affect in the wake of a genocidal madman's passage through society, but he's much younger than we are, and—"
"We're not old."
"I feel old," Lucius admitted. "A bit at loose ends, as well."
"You're just bored," Narcissa asserted, snuggling down against him.
"It's not just that."
"No," Narcissa agreed, "but I weary of worrying about it. I grow weary of . . . of having to bribe people through my charitable concerns into spending time with me. What's the use of having everything if one doesn't enjoy it—or can't share it with friends? I want another baby, Lucius. I want to start again . . . before I am too old."
They fell silent for a while, and then Lucius asked, "How do you suppose that Daphne at last persuaded Everett to see us socially?"
"It wasn't Everett who needed persuading, darling. It was Daphne."
"Really? How odd."
Narcissa laughed. "Hardly odd. Your 'heritage' isn't as lofty as mine," she replied teasingly.
"So it's my fault, is it?"
"Let's just be thankful that the girls wanted to share their pregnancies and not think about it further."
"I think that Everett must have more of a—more influence upon his wife than I have upon you. Good for him."
"Do shut up."
"Narcissa, have you made overtures to Andromeda since . . . ?"
"Without telling you?" she asked, before sighing. "Yes, of course I have."
"She isn't as inclined to forgive as some, but that doesn't mean that we can't start over."
Narcissa tensed slightly, and then relaxed. "Everett has more experience than Severus did, Lucius. He wouldn't put me in any danger, but . . . ."
"Yes?" Lucius asked.
"He told me that he won't help us have another child unless you agree."
As is only proper, Lucius thought, pleased to discover that he and Blake were of one mind with regard to women, at least. He didn't ask for his wife's permission to protect her, he just did it, didn't he? He smiled. "Perhaps we should discuss the matter with him . . . together."
Narcissa sat up and looked down at him hopefully. "Oh, Lucius, do you mean it?"
Much better, he thought, to see her smiling at him in so unguarded a manner. "I do."
Narcissa flung herself at him and covered his face in kisses. "You'll see . . . it won't . . . be like it was. . . . I'll be . . . fine."
Laughing, Lucius replied, "And perhaps your unforgiving sister might take pity on your pregnant condition and deign to speak to you again."
Narcissa stilled. "She might just, at that, if she thought she'd have a hand in bringing up her niece 'properly'."
"Yes, much as I imagine that Daphne elected to do for Astoria."
"I suppose I can't blame her for that," Narcissa said, "given the mistakes we've made."
"Ha," said Lucius.
"Don't be smug," Narcissa replied.
"This is ridiculous, you know, rolling about the lawn like teenagers."
Narcissa drew her fingertips down his chest. "If we were teenagers, we'd have been shagging long before now."
"Is that an invitation, my wife?"
"When have you ever required one from me?" she replied huskily.
"You make a good point."
"Make a better one, Lucius."
Lucius was seriously considering taking Narcissa on the lawn when he felt the ground move underneath of him and something nose his arse. "What the hell?" he cried, springing to his feet and bringing Narcissa to hers after him.
He looked down. There was a niffler jutting its long, bewhiskered snout from the tunnel it had apparently only just made.
"We're infested with the damn things!"
"Well don't just stand there," Narcissa told him, as the niffler sniffed the air on the edge of its hole, "kill it!"
"I can't. I promised Scorpius that I wouldn't harm the blasted creatures."
"You promised not to destroy a common garden pest?" Narcissa asked incredulously.
Bugger, thought Lucius, feeling foolish and worrying that his nascent rapprochement with Narcissa would be ruined.
"Oh, darling!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck. "There's hope for you, yet." Narcissa kissed him deeply.
Stunned but pleased, Lucius elected to Disapparate them to their bedchamber at once, where he spent the rest of the afternoon making many satisfactory points, indeed.
When he and Narcissa rose from their bed to go down to dinner later that evening, they discovered something of a celebration taking place in the dining room.
"Ghoul, Cissa, Papa's onion won!" Roger exclaimed, half-rising from his chair.
"Congratulations, Everett," Lucius replied smoothly, "but perhaps you'd leave off celebrating for a bit as we've something more important to which to attend."
His eyebrows rising, Everett asked, "Oh?"
"Nifflers have infested the grounds," Lucius explained, pulling back Narcissa's chair for her.
"One mischief hardly qualifies as an infestation, Father," said Draco.
"It's not just the one," Narcissa told him, as Lucius kissed her.
"How do you know?" asked Astoria, looking from Lucius to Narcissa to Draco and then back again.
"Well, it was my buttocks it bumped into on the way out of the earth," Lucius replied.
"Might have been mine, dear," said Narcissa, blushing.
Everyone fell silent at her remark until Lucius replied, "Thank goodness it wasn't."
"Indeed," said Everett, rising. "If you'll excuse me?" he asked Daphne.
She smiled at him. Lucius turned to Narcissa; she was still smiling at him. He winked at her.
"You won't hurt them, will you, Granfa?"
"Of course he won't," Eileen said. "He already promised."
"That's right," Lucius agreed, beaming at her, "I did."
"Can we come, too?" Roger asked.
Everett shook his head. "Bedtime's in just over an hour, and this might take some time. We'll tell you all about it tomorrow."
"Besides," Draco added, as Lucius and Everett left the room, "you've been waiting for Biddy's pudding all day, haven't you?"
"Biddy's pudding," Everett said, with longing in his voice.
"Don't worry, old boy," Lucius told him jovially. "I've told Biddy to send dinner to the workshop. There's sure to be pudding."
"It looks to me as if you've already had your 'pudding'."
"Everett, there is no such thing as too much pudding, everyone knows that."
"Agreed. Now tell me about this niffler problem of yours."
"I will if you'll tell me where Severus went wrong with that potion of his."
Lucius stopped walking and turned to him. "Not entirely, no, but before you, Narcissa, and I sit down together to discuss it, I'd like to be."
"That shows good sense on your part."
"It does, doesn't it?" Lucius agreed.
"And are we truly going to concern ourselves with niffler removal?"
"Of course not. That's what Crackthorne is for," Lucius said, moving on.
Everett snorted. "In that case, I hope you've asked Biddy to send a good bottle of wine with the pudding."
"We're not friends," Lucius replied pleasantly, "but surely you know me well enough by now not to doubt my hospitality to family."
"When young," answered Everett, "I am sweet in the sun. When middle-aged, I make you gay. When old, I am—"
"—valued more than ever," Lucius joined Everett in saying, before continuing, "yes, the wine will be of an appropriate vintage, I assure you."