A/N: All hail Queens Oblivionbaby and Shayalonnie, Beta and Alpha extraordinaire.
10 August 1999
Hermione was going to kill him: as he Apparated onto the lane outside of Malfoy Manor, it was the only thing he was sure of. When she found out where he had been, she would murder him and string his body up for any future lovers to find, probably with the word "liar" etched onto his cock in boils. And, honestly, he would probably deserve it.
Unless, of course, he was right, and he had been known to be right about the Malfoys a time or two before. When he had been convinced that Malfoy was a Death Eater, for example. Or when he'd felt the urge to travel to Wiltshire over a year ago to find the girl he had known only by her name on a faded old tapestry.
In the distance, Harry heard a peacock crying. He exhaled, steeling himself for the confrontation he knew lay ahead, and then made his way toward the sound. Trekking to the front doors of Malfoy Manor had never been a pleasant experience, and this time was no difference. For as lovely as the grounds were—and they were lovely—they did little to make him forget being dragged through them in the dead of night, his face so swollen he could barely see and a persistent stinging beneath his skin that refused to abate. And fear. The sensation had been so palpable he could have choked on it: fear for himself, for Hermione, and for Ron. He had almost thought they'd been going to their death.
He reached the front step in record time, taking a few moments to survey his surroundings (had there always been a fountain there?) and then adjusting his crimson, Ministry approved jacket before lifting the knocker on the door in front of him and letting it fall once, twice, three times.
The door opened before the last knock had finished reverberating through the air. Harry stepped back, wand in hand before he realized it was not a Malfoy standing there, but a house-elf.
"Tottsy, isn't it?" said Harry, recognizing the elf from his last visit. The creature's bulbous eyes widened for a moment before she nodded and then spoke.
"Mr Potter. Mistress is not expecting company." The house elf almost looked regretful, and Harry was very nearly sorry for what he was about to say to the poor thing.
"You can tell your mistress there's an Auror here to ask her some questions, and that if she doesn't answer them to my satisfaction, I won't be the only Auror in her home today."
Tottsy didn't even quiver, only nodded once and disappeared with a crack of Apparition. She left the door open behind her, and as he had done before, Harry stepped into the entrance hall. This time, the gilded sconces on the wall were already lit, and Harry took a moment to study the room. Two long tables sat opposite one another against the walls, floral centerpieces overwhelming the already intricately carved wood. Behind the towering flowers, a posh looking paneling covered the walls from floor to ceiling.
Harry turned at the sound of his name. Narcissa Malfoy stood at the foot of an elegant looking staircase. She was dressed to perfection, her hair meticulously coiffed and her dress without a single visible crease. Behind her stood her husband. Lucius Malfoy was not nearly so well put together as his wife, and Harry wondered whether he was still recovering from his time spent in Azkaban, or if this was simply what a Lucius Malfoy who had had his wand snapped in two looked like. His hair—though tied back at the nape of his neck—was in disarray, his finely made robes were creased, and there was a hint of stubble at his jaw.
"What an unexpected pleasure. Can we offer you some tea?" Narcissa's voice was cordial, and Harry narrowed his eyes.
"No," he said. "I'm not here for your bloody hospitality." He reached into his robes, grabbing hold of a crumpled piece of parchment and then flinging it in her direction. "Is this how you repay your debts?"
Narcissa flinched at the motion and Harry watched as Lucius stepped down beside her, reaching into the pocket of his robe with one hand while simultaneously reaching across his wife with the other, as if to protect her. Harry noted the bitter look on the man's face when the wand he hand been grasping at was nowhere to be found.
The letter hit Narcissa's skirt and fell to the floor at her feet.
"What is it?"
"You should know," Harry spat. "It was you who sent it."
Lucius made an impatient noise and Narcissa laid a hand on his arm. The man stilled at her touch and then crossed his arms imperiously, looking away.
"I assure you, the last thing either myself or Lucius would wish to do is enrage you," she said at last, bending down to retrieve the parchment and then straightening again as she unfurled it to read. Her eyes flitted quickly across the surface of the paper, and Harry watched her intently for any sign that she recognized what was written there. Finally, when she looked up at him with wide eyes and a disturbed expression, Harry was forced to admit that her reaction seemed genuine.
"What does it say?" Snapped Lucius after several seconds.
Narcissa cleared her throat and handed him the letter. "It's a blackmail note, darling."
This time, Harry studied Lucius. He nearly swore when the man betrayed nothing.
"And you thought we had sent this?" Lucius looked up, his expression both arrogant and pitying. "I assure you, Mr Potter, even with the loss of all that the Ministry has seen fit to abscond from my vaults, I am perfectly solvent. I've no need of your meager ten thousand."
"You're the only ones who know," said Harry, struggling not to scream and seem a complete lunatic.
"Certainly Euphemia is aware that you—"
"Rowle?" Harry cut in as Narcissa objected.
"Yes. A cousin of the Black family."
"Everyone's a cousin of the Black if you go back far enough," Harry dismissed. "And I Obliviated the bitch, so that still only leaves you."
If the Malfoy's were shocked by his language, they didn't say anything, only made their way toward him from where they stood by the stairs and then motioned him into a room to his right. Harry followed them grudgingly into an ostentatiously decorated room perhaps half the size of the drawing room he remembered from his first visit to the estate.
"Please, sit." Narcissa motioned to a low settee with gilded feet and took the opposite seat. Lucius didn't sit at all, choosing instead to make his way to a sideboard with crystal decanters and bottles of expensive looking Wizarding liquor on top.
"I'm not here for the pleasure of your company," Harry said bitterly.
"No," said Narcissa, her voice both saccharine sweet and bitterly sharp. "You're here to accuse us of blackmail and threaten us by virtue of your position at the Ministry. But there's no reason you can't do all that and drink tea at the same time." She looked up then, her stare hard and unyielding as she waited for him to oblige her.
Harry, angry but slightly convicted by her words, sat.
"Tottsy!" Narcissa called into the room. The small house elf appeared at her mistresses words, waiting for a single word—"Tea."—before disappearing once more. It was the work of a minute for the creature to prepare and serve the hot drink to all three of the rooms occupants, though Lucius's cup was left untouched in front of a wingback chair as the man began to drink by the fire.
"Now," the woman said once the house elf had gone, "aside from my knowing about Delphini—" Harry bristled at the woman's use of his daughter's full name, but she persisted nevertheless. "Have you any other reason to believe we wish you ill?"
Harry scoffed. "Aside from the fact that I killed your Dark Lord and you hate everything I stand for?"
It was Lucius's turn to make an impatient sound from where he sat, half turned away from the scene.
"Something to say, Malfoy?"
"Potter, I would have sent you bloody bouquet of unicorn horns for your trouble had I not been rotting in a cell soon after that abomination died." Lucius took another drink and Narcissa made a small noise of disapproval before turning back to Harry.
"We were not very… enthusiastic supporters, there at the end. You might say we were shown the error of our ways."
Harry rolled his eyes and pulled his wand, checking his tea for any tampering before he lifted it to take a sip. "Isn't that the excuse you lot used to stay out of Azkaban after the first war?"
"The difference being," spat Malfoy, turning to face Harry now, "that the last time, that bastard hadn't tried to murder my son!"
Harry fell quiet as Narcissa sipped her tea, her expression inscrutable. He felt a sharp stab of sympathy and hated himself for it, but now that he was a father himself, Harry understood what the Malfoy's must have felt when Voldemort had threatened their son. The sensation had probably been very much like how he felt now, knowing that someone, somewhere, held the power to throw Delphi's life into complete disarray.
"Look," Harry said at last, "I appreciate that your position after the war was—difficult… but I can't just forget what you did, not to me, not to Hermione, not to Ginny, or Dobby, or any of the multitudes of people that you controlled, tortured, or killed. You deserve to be in Azkaban, Malfoy, and the only reason you're not still rotting there is because your wife—for some bloody reason I'll never know—wanted you here."
Lucius's eyes were gray, Harry realized, as he met the man's gaze. Was that regret in their depths?
"I'm very aware of my circumstances," the man said, taking another drink from his glass before turning back to face the fire.
"Yes." Narcissa sipped her tea and then set the delicate china cup back down on its saucer. "Point being, Lucius and I have very little reason to wish you ill, given you liberated us and our property out from the hands of a mad man. Besides, the oath I gave you at our last meeting would have prevented me from sending you a letter such as the one you received. Your Miss Granger saw to that." She paused, her head tilting to the side as she watched him for a moment before continuing. "Of course, you did kidnap my niece, so I suppose I can see why you might be wary."
"Kidnapped your—" Harry saw red. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Watch your language with my wife, whelp," Lucius growled.
"Fuck you," Harry returned, perhaps more petulantly than he would have liked, but who was Lucius Malfoy to tell him how to behave?
"You took her from a home where she was cared for, for no other reason than your own spite of our family," Narcissa continued, and Harry thought he might actually curse the woman if she didn't shut her mouth soon.
"Cared for," echoed Harry. "You call what Rowle—You call how I found her... cared for? You're more twisted than I could have imagined."
"The home was clean and the woman had more than enough means to meet the child's needs," objected Narcissa. "She assured me that she had always wanted a child of her own, and was happy to step in after… after Bella."
At the mention of Lestrange, Harry's blood boiled. After all this time, despite the gift the woman's existence and choices had given him, he still could not help the reaction. And as for the load of hippogriff shit Narcissa had just spouted… Harry didn't even know where to begin.
"Did you even check on her, after you dropped her on some stranger's doorstep?" He asked, voice strangled. "Did you bother to make sure she was okay, or did you cast her off the same way you would a pair of shoes you wore once?"
Narcissa bristled. "If you'll recall," she said, "my entire family was arrested days after the battle. We had barely enough time to find a safe place for Delphini before they were on our steps. Can you imagine what the Aurors would have done if they had found her here? It wouldn't have surprised me if that lot had killed her to save themselves the trouble of the paperwork."
"And after you were released?" Harry said, his voice growing louder with every word. "You couldn't have taken ten bloody minutes to make sure she was still breathing before you went back to your ball gowns and teacups and—"
"I was sentenced to house arrest without the privilege of a wand, a state which persisted until well after you absconded with the girl!"
Harry deflated just a bit at her words, because no, he hadn't remembered that. Even if she had wanted to check on the state of Delphi's care, she wouldn't have been able to. And then a thought occurred to him.
"Why not send Draco?" He asked, bitterly.
Narcissa's gaze turned scornful. "Draco was… unaware of the child's connection to the the Dark Lord. He thought she belonged to Rodolphus. We told him the man killed the girl before he was captured." Harry couldn't think of what to say in response, which was just as well, as Narcissa didn't seemed to have finished. "Why do you care so very much about whether or not we saw the girl between Bella's death and your kidnapping anyhow? It's not as if you've any interest in bringing the girl around to get to know her family—"
"I'm her family," interrupted Harry. "The Weasley's are her family. You're just someone who abandoned her."
"We saved her," Narcissa hissed, her manicured nails looking more like talons as she clutched her teacup tightly. "If the world knew—"
"I SAVED HER!" Harry bellowed. "You left her to rot in her own filth!"
Narcissa's grey eyes widened and she set her teacup down on the table with a loud clink. Lucius stood and came to stand beside his wife, putting a hand to her shoulder and glaring down at Harry.
"We left her more than enough," Narcissa said, voice cold. "Gold and clothes and toys and Draco's own crib."
"Rowle sold it," said Harry flatly, "or vanished the lot when you had gone. When I found Delphi she was sitting in a rickety old crib, covered in shit and piss and bruises. Her skin was red and raw, and she was bloody well near hypothermic because the woman you paid to care for her, had left her naked under an—" his voice broke and Harry blinked back tears that were threatening to obscure his vision. "She'd left her under an open window and hadn't fed her in at least a day." The memory of her—his precious daughter—screaming silently into the night air, nearly overwhelmed him. He fought until he'd managed to shove the vision back down with the hell that was his own childhood.
"So I don't know about any gold, or clothes, or things you might have left her. I don't know what Rowle told you to make you think she could care for Delphi, or even wanted to…but the bitch would have killed her if I hadn't gone looking for her, and if she had died, you can believe I would have made you suffer for it."
When Harry forced himself to look back up at the Malfoy's, he noticed the stricken expression on Lucius's face, and the sorrow on Narcissa's. Good, he thought. They deserved to feel badly about this. They'd left their own blood with hateful, abusive old woman, and had trusted that their name and their money would keep the child safe. They'd been wrong, and they should feel the same horror he had when he had found her. And Harry didn't care if they hadn't been able to check on her, or if they had been right to find her a home elsewhere, where the secret of her birth couldn't haunt her… they'd chosen wrong. They were the reason his child had suffered. He hated them.
"Y-you're lying," stammered Narcissa. Were those tears in the woman's eyes?
"God, I wish I were."
The blonde woman blinked rapidly, her lashes fluttering as she looked away toward a window, hiding her face from Harry's view. She stayed there for nearly a full minute as Harry tried to convince himself he shouldn't curse these people over what had happened to his daughter. By the time she looked back at him, her gaze was steady and her eyes were bright with conviction.
"It seems, Mr Potter, that we owe you yet another debt," she said. Her words took Harry by surprise. "Not only did you free us from servitude, but you saved the life of one of our own."
"Delphi is not one of you," said Harry.
Narcissa shrugged, and Lucius shifted uncomfortably beside her. "Semantics," she said. "The girl was my niece before she was ever your daughter. I was there when she was born, Potter. Your bond with her may have made her yours, but it did not erase her place in my heart, cold as it may be."
"If you think you have some sort of claim on her, you've bloody well got another thing coming," Harry began, but Narcissa cut him off with an impatient toss of her head.
"No claim but one of affection," she said, and then paused before continuing. "Bellatrix was not always so… deranged. Once, we were sisters. And when she was with Delphi… It felt almost as if my sister had returned to me."
"Delphi is nothing like her," Harry protested, but even as he spoke the words, they rang false in his ears. He saw the resemblance any time he looked at the girl, and while he knew the color of her hair looked to the casual observer like his own contribution to the child, he knew where those curls had really come from. He knew when she laughed where he had heard such a laugh before.
Narcissa gave him a pitying look but said nothing.
They sat there in uncomfortable silence as Harry inwardly cursed the Malfoys and Bellatrix Lestrange and Rowle and bloody fucking Tom Riddle for what they had done, and when he had run out of people to hate and questionable language to think toward them, he sighed. What he was left with, was the sure knowledge that without these people, he would not have Delphi, and he would be a million times poorer for it. And then, because his curiosity had always been stronger than his sense of self preservation, Harry heard himself ask, "How did it happen, anyway? Between your sister and… and Riddle."
Lucius choked on his drink, and Narcissa gave Harry a withering look.
"The usual way, I would imagine. Bella was never one for girlish gossip."
"Merlin. No. NO. I meant, how did they…" He struggled to find a phrase that fit. "Get to the point where Delphi was even a possibility? Bellatrix was married. How did they hide the fact that they were— I mean how do more Death Eaters not know about Delphi?"
To Harry's surprise, Narcissa looked up at her husband, who had righted himself and was draining the rest of his drink.
"Lucius, perhaps you might be more equipped to answer the boy's question?"
Harry bristled at being called a boy, but before he could protest, Lucius was speaking.
"Bella was always the Dark Lord's most fervent admirer," he said. "Whereas I and many of my compatriots were offered into service by our own fathers, Bella came willingly."
"Was she in love with him?" Harry asked.
From her seat, Narcissa nodded, face blank.
"Certainly," said Lucius. "But the Dark Lord had little interest in anything so banal as marriage. He used her in the ways that she offered, but tradition dictated she marry, and though he was attracted to her… charms… he would not deny Cygnus the prestige of a daughter married into the Lestrange family. Officially, their liaison ended with her engagement, but…" His voice trailed off, and Harry imagined he could fill in the blanks.
"No one knew?" Asked Harry.
Narcissa scoffed. "Everyone knew," she said, her disdain evident. "Bella had no shame."
"Then why don't more people suspect—"
"Because you defeated the Dark Lord, idiot child," snapped Lucius. "He disappeared, and Bella went to Azkaban. Years passed. A decade. More. By the time the Dark Lord returned Bella was mad and hideous to behold."
"So they were a perfect match then," said Harry.
Lucius almost smirked. "Quite. But they were more discreet this time. The Dark Lord was more private. I don't like to imagine why."
"Lucius, don't be crass," Narcissa chided.
"In any case, once Bella became…enceinte…she was hidden away here. The Dark Lord took great pains to make clear that his involvement in the unfortunate development was to be kept secret. Those who knew of her condition were told that the child was Rodolphus's get. Rodolphus, of course, knew better, but was pleased to give his wife over to our master's service, in whatever way he desired."
"Death Eaters," muttered Harry, and Lucius glared in his direction.
"I would never have allowed such a thing," the man spat. "To use ones wife in such a manner to curry favor—the man was despicable."
"Using your child's okay though?" snapped Harry.
"You have no idea what you're talking about, you stupid—"
"Lucius, darling," cautioned Narcissa, "calm yourself before you say something you're liable to regret."
Lucious swore and strode back across the room, filling his glass with more brandy and taking another sip.
"The information about Bella's pregnancy was tightly controlled," said Narcissa, ignoring her husband's outburst. "Only a very few in the inner circle knew that she was pregnant, and of those who knew, only three knew the truth of the child's parentage. We believed…" her voice trailed off again, as if she could not decide whether to tell Harry exactly what it was that they had thought.
"What? What did you believe?"
Narcissa sighed. "We thought that he was waiting until the war was won, and that once it was, if he had a son, he was planning to claim the child."
"Not a daughter?"
Narcissa gave him another pitying look.
"What use would a man such as he have for a daughter?"
Harry brushed off the anger on Delphi's behalf that her question provoked, focusing instead on the other piece of what she had said.
"So no one, aside from the two of you and Lestrange, knew the truth?" he found that hard to believe.
"If they knew, they gave no indication," she said. "Rodolphus received many congratulations once his brethren came more frequently to the manor, and saw Delphini for themselves."
"And Rowle knew," Harry added. "Before, you said that Rowle might have sent the letter. She must have known the truth."
Narcissa nodded stiffly.
"We told her," she said. "The woman's brother was a true believer. In Azkaban now. We thought that if she knew, that she would be more likely to care for the girl. We were, obviously, wrong."
Harry's mind began to work through the problem. If the Malfoys and Lestrange had been the only ones to know aside from Rowle, then his leads were gone. The more he spoke with the Malfoys the more evident it became to him that they had not been the ones to send the letter. That left Lestrange—who he knew for a fact was dead—and Rowle, who he had Obliviated. If he'd performed the charm correctly the woman wouldn't even have remembered that a child named Delphini ever existed… If he'd gotten it wrong though… But then why would the woman have waited this long?
"Mother, I got the robes you ordered at Twilfitt's. Should I have Tottsy take them up, or would you like to see them first?" Draco Malfoy rounded the corner into the sitting room just as he finished his sentence, and then he caught sight of Harry sitting in front of his parents. He reached for his wand almost instantly, and Harry mirrored the Syltherin's movements, standing at the same time.
"What are you doing here, Potter?" Malfoy spat, edging toward his parents as if they needed protecting.
Harry scowled at the man in return.
"I don't see how that's any of your business, Malfoy," he said, keeping his wand steady and trained on the ferret's stupidly pointed face.
"Draco, lower your wand," hissed Lucius from beside the fire.
"You can't take him back," Draco said, ignoring his father and finally succeeding in inserting himself between Harry and the elder Malfoys. "We were promised he could fulfill the sentence here. He hasn't broken any terms of his parole."
"I can do whatever I want," said Harry, feeling spiteful toward the boy who had taken it in turns to bully both of his best friends. Never mind that that boy was now a man grown, who Harry knew had been under a terrible strain during the war… the bastard was still an arse.
"Leave my house, Potter," said Malfoy.
"Draco, really," Narcissa cut in, her voice taking on the same placating tone he remembered Aunt Petunia using on Dudley when he was threatening to throw a tantrum. "We're all being perfectly amicable here. Mr Potter was only—"
"Leaving," said Draco. "He's leaving. I don't care if you're an Auror or not, you'll be welcome in my home over my dead body after what you put my parents through!"
"Your father was a Death Eater," said Harry, keeping his tone even. "His sentence is well deserved."
"You arsehole," Draco swore.
"Draco!" said Lucius.
"Piss off, Malfoy. You were a bully in school, and you're a bully now. I doubt you'll ever amount to anything more."
Malfoy's grey eyes flashed, and his grip tightened on the handle of his wand.
"Is that what this is, Potter? You coming for revenge because I called your girlfriend a Mudblood in school?"
Harry wanted to punch the fucker, but instead, he heard himself shout, "Stupefy!" Unfortunately, he was too slow. Trained Auror though he was, the slur Malfoy had uttered had blinded him with rage, and so he had missed the small hand mirror that the pale blond hand conjured wordlessly. Harry's spell, which had been aimed at Malfoy's chest, rebounded when it met the glass, shooting back at Harry, who almost managed to get out of the way. Unfortunately, he was just too slow, and the ricocheting spell hit his right shoulder, sending him spinning through the air and toward the wall behind him.
At once, Harry was aware of a searing pain in his gut. His eyes fluttered shut as he began to lose consciousness, and he thought he saw something sharp, pointed, and coated in thick dark liquid protruding from a spot below his ribs. Before he could ponder the meaning of such a sight, everything went dark.