Disclaimer: I'm not J.K. Rowling; I'm only visiting her universe for nonprofit fun and edification. (No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended).

ooo

Lucius said he would get the Firewhiskey himself, and the rest of the necessaries, while he was in Diagon Alley.

For Narcissa had her hands full with the preparations for the birthday party. The house elf would help, of course, with the parts that required no intelligence, and Narcissa would take care of the rest. Bellatrix would be coming, as well, since it was a Family observation, and that meant the Black Family as well as the Malfoys—well, and that meant Regulus, whom he had to bear with a smile in spite of the jealousy that burned in his breast at the very idea of that impertinent boy within arm's reach of his wife.

It still chafed him to think that they'd even considered Regulus as a match for Narcissa—well, what could one expect from Walburga Black, who had married her own cousin and therefore had the joy of relinquishing her own name for one she respected nearly as much—which is to say, she was Walburga Black nee Black, born Black and married Black: black-hearted, bloody-minded, all too well aware of the glorious and Dark lineage of which she was the bearer, as mother of Sirius and Regulus and aunt to the Three Beautiful Black Sisters. She had treasured in her heart the notion of marrying at least one of her sons to one of Druella Black's daughters, lest the other branch of the splendid lineage of the House of Black (Toujours Pur) be extinguished in the male line…

… even if it were swallowed up in one at least as distinguished. At least as distinguished; that's what the Malfoys said in public, but what they thought behind closed doors, and what Walburga Black most certainly said: almost as distinguished, with the deficit of glory made up only by the gold in the Gringotts vault, and the properties in Normandy and the Cote d'Azur (only lately redeemed from nationalization following the nasty Grindelwald business). It's rumored, by those who rate their own lives lightly, that there was an additional factor as well: Druella Black's fancy for Abraxas Malfoy. Some have even gone so far as to hint that Narcissa's blonde beauty is owed not to some throwback to a long-ago Black ancestor, but in a much simpler way, to her natural father.

Two or three such malicious gossips have been found with their throats cut from ear to ear, and rather more extensive damage done to the rest of the body, quite clearly before the original owner was dead.

Lucius Malfoy abhors gossip.

He gathers his cloak about him fastidiously as he steps through the Floo from the Manor to the public Floo at the Leaky Cauldron. It's plebeian, but altogether the quickest way to travel. Of late, Apparition has been wearing—well, in the service of the Dark Lord he's had to do rather too much of it, and given his master's taste for Crucio, it's best not to be late for such summons even by a heartbeat—so it's the Floo the rest of the time. Besides, that impresses upon the great public that Abraxas Malfoy's son has the common touch, unlike his lordly father, who resides at the Manor in splendid isolation, nurturing dreams of Pureblood supremacy while refusing his son the means to make them a reality…

No, he will not dwell on his father's foolishness, at least not until there is something he can do about it.

"As long as I live, you will obey me," his father had said in that last conference. "I don't care how long you live or how many heirs you produce." And then a sneer, "Not that you've had much success in that line."

Lucius has thought upon that a lot. As long as I live, you will obey me.

At the Diagon Alley apothecary, he buys a deep-violet flask of Dreamless Sleep, and some of the rarer and more expensive ingredients on the list that Severus Snape had given him.

"Why don't you manage it yourself, then?" he'd asked. After all, Severus was the Potions Master.

Severus looked at him with unreadable scorn—which is to say, with his usual expression; the man seems to have taken in bile and wormwood with his mother's milk—and said, "Don't prove yourself the fool they say you are, Lucius. You've already gotten caught once. And it's your project. The Dark Lord has given me permission to proceed, but that doesn't mean he's footing the bill. And you really are a fool if you think the other side is paying for it, either."

So Lucius is buying the expensive ingredients that can't be traced to this particular Potion (or to Severus Snape, he thinks with some bitterness). The Dreamless Sleep, of course, is from Narcissa's list.

If Snape weren't so brilliant, he'd kill the man in a heartbeat for putting Lucius and fool in the same sentence. He's really insufferable, and those silky tones he affects—as if Lucius didn't remember what he sounded like his first three months at Hogwarts, pure Muggle (Manchester mill-worker, to be precise) before he'd remade himself as the Half-Blood Prince …

Eileen Prince, who had told Abraxas Malfoy that she'd sooner marry a Muggle than consider his offer, and proved true to her word. And her son—whom he always after thought of as his almost-brother—was nearly as bloody-minded as Eileen herself.

Which proves that the best of the Pureblood lines breed true… As great-grandmother Messalina used to say, "Purity, like anything else, can be overdone."

No, that's a distinctly heretical thought…

"What are you about, lad, in such a hurry?" That in hearty Lancashire tones… oh hell and damnation, it's Alice thrice-damned blood-traitor Longbottom, with her round cheery face above scarlet Auror robes, and that manner that's going to be friendly as long as he cooperates with duly constituted authority.

It doesn't do to give cheek to Alice Longbottom, who sent Rabastan Lestrange up to Azkaban for three weeks "to think about it" the last time he pulled his wand on her.

When everyone knows she's in Dumbledore's cabal, the Order of the bloody Phoenix, and they still let her stay in the Auror corps, along with her great bluff fool of a husband. Blood-traitors, all of them. The place is going to hell in a handbasket…

He's annoyed because he's thinking like an old man—and he's not even twenty-five—but living with blood-traitors and filth makes one age before one's time.

Nonetheless he lets her do a sweep of his person with her wand, and a rather thorough inspection of his purchases. Nothing there for her to question, is there? Except his face is his fortune, and his name is Lucius Malfoy, and that has negative currency with Alice Longbottom and her crowd. It's with visible reluctance that she hands him back his parcels and lets him continue on his way.

Well, Severus was right, but he's not going to tell him that.

Then there's a stop at the Ministry, because Narcissa reminded him that it was Mafalda Hopkirk's birthday, practically a national holiday in Pureblood isolationist circles, not for Mafalda herself—a middling-successful Ministry bureaucrat of thoroughly undistinguished talents—but for what she is, the last living daughter of a tragic and exemplary Pureblood line. She owes her Ministry appointment to it, the last descendant of the line ravaged by the depredations of the Vengeful Squib, Matthew Hopkirk, whom the Muggles granted a new name and the title of Witch-Finder General.

She even bears the feminine variant of his given name, but that's traditional as well. Never forgive, never forget: that's the Pureblood way.

While he's bringing Mafalda his birthday offering—an exquisitely crafted eighteenth-century foe-glass, the correct gift for the ever-vigilant—and kissing her hand, she's giggling and regaling him with Ministry gossip and offering him chocolates from the cut-glass box on her desk, with hints about how much more gracious and handsome he is than his father.

He isn't sure which is more delicious (the gossip, the chocolates, or the flattery), until she gets to the last item: Arthur Weasley's wife, the ever-fertile Molly, is pregnant again. And since last time was twins, who knows how many she'll pop out this time?

Given the occasion, this has all the charm of biting into a Bertie Bott's that looks like chocolate and getting… dogshit.

He laughs along, though, because the famous Weasley-Prewett fertility is something of a vulgar joke in Pureblood circles: four red-headed sons like their blood-traitor uncles, all of them attested wizards … even though Molly Prewett's second cousin was a Squib. Ha, ha, not a Squib yet among the Weasley litter. Very funny indeed. Yes, they must rut quite a lot, Arthur and Molly. Ha.

Mafalda's chocolates, delicious as they are, cannot obliterate the bitter taste of mortality.

Last stop, to buy a bottle of Firewhiskey at the Leaky Cauldron—and there's Severus Snape, in billowing black as usual. If he didn't know the Prince line back to the ninth century, he'd swear the man had vampire ancestry. No doubt there's some grubby thespian on the Muggle side of the family, because the man is relentlessly theatrical, in a truly annoying way that's impeccably Pureblood in style and thoroughly Mugglish in its flourishing arrogance.

Snape suggests a drink, which as usual is on the Malfoy tab, since it's the Dark Lord's business, or rather, Snape's business which the Dark Lord has graciously permitted to proceed, on company time as it were, because the Potion under development might prove useful to the Death Eaters, should a campaign of covert terror become necessary.

It mimics all of the classic signs of Dragon Pox. And since the disease is notoriously contagious, no one is going to look too close in the inquest—particularly not if there's a cluster of victims.

This strikes Lucius as rank stupidity as a Death Eater tactic; what's the point of killing people so that it looks like natural causes? It's not as if you can throw up the Dark Mark over the contagious ward… People would laugh at you.

Snape replies sniffily that there's something called biological warfare, but he doesn't suppose that Lucius would have heard of it. At any rate, he shouldn't carp, because the Dark Lord liked the idea, so they now have sanction for this pet project, which he might remind Lucius, is his, Lucius Malfoy's, pet project.

Lucius is no Legilimens, but he can practically read what Snape is thinking: pain-in-the-arse inbred git.

One dose of Severus Snape in a day is quite sufficient. Make that a dose of Severus Snape, a dollop of Arthur-and-Molly, with a side of Alice Longbottom. Lucius Malfoy is having a very bad day, but at least there's domestic bliss awaiting him at home.

He steps through the Floo, announces "Malfoy Manor, drawing-room," as other hearth fires whirl by in the darkness, and steps out into the melancholy white beauty of the drawing-room, where Narcissa sits, embroidering while their three-year-old son cuddles his Kneazle kitten. They run wild on the Manor, of course, and Narcissa approves them because they keep the white peacocks out of her rose garden.

"Is everything ready?" she says, with a tender smile. She's glowing, silvery-rose, with the burgeoning beauty of early pregnancy. He knows that look, has known it from the first he saw it when they were in their seventh year at Hogwarts. He remembers those trysts in the underwater glow of the Slytherin common-room, embracing with the thrill of the illicit under the beneficent glow of thorough legitimacy, for he and Narcissa had been betrothed since age fourteen, by special permission of the Ministry pursuant to their parents' petition before the Wizengamot for the early formalization of an alliance between two Pureblood lines so exemplary in their purity that they are practically national treasures of wizarding Britain.

He bends to kiss her, and little Draco insists, "Me too! Me too! Kiss me too, papa!" a request which, all things considered, he sees no reason not to indulge. He gracefully drops to one knee and enfolds the little boy in his robes, and accepts a sticky kiss—what is it about this child that is eternally sticky, no matter how many times you wash or Scourgify him?—and a warm, cuddly hug.

"I'm going to have my birthday party," he says. "And mama says everyone will be there."

"Yes, Draco," Lucius says, "your Aunt Bellatrix and your Uncle Regulus, and your Great-Aunt Walburga and your Great-Aunt Druella…"

"And I'll get to have a special drink, like a big boy."

"That's right."

"Mama says it tastes bad, but I have to drink it all because that's what big boys do."

Narcissa smiles and strokes the feather-fine blond hair on the little head, and their son cuddles against her side. "Yes, and you'll be a brave boy, won't you?"

"Yes, for mama and papa." He smiles sweetly, makes to suck his thumb, and then resists, Lucius observes with approval, because he's been told it's a babyish habit.

It's traditional for the Paterfamilias to mix the draught, so Lucius arrays himself in full dress robes to take the Firewhiskey and the Dreamless Sleep on a silver tray to his father's apartments in the Manor.

He places the tray on his father's desk, and genuflects (before his father, the Head of the Family, he thinks, and not Abraxas Malfoy) and remains on one knee, head bowed, while Abraxas Malfoy unlocks the coffer containing the traditional goblet with the Malfoy family crest, unseals the flask of Dreamless Sleep and uncorks the Firewhiskey.

The silence is nearly unbearable.

There's the gurgle of Firewhiskey, and then the splash of the Dreamless Sleep.

Then the final words of benediction, "Go then, and do your duty to this House." A pause. "You may rise."

The silver tray, the bottle and the flask remain in Abraxas Malfoy's study. (The house elf will deal with them.) Lucius bows to his father, and bears the goblet back to his family's wing, not spilling a drop. He still remembers the rehearsal of this ritual, on the eve of his betrothal to Narcissa. He didn't understand the full import of it at the time, not at fourteen, but saw it only as a test of physical grace and good form.

Which it most definitely is, but it's the other sort of grace that it really requires, once you understand the meaning.

The goblet is placed on the mantelpiece, in full view of all the guests. In his absence, they have arrived by Floo: the women of Narcissa's family, as is traditional, to stand by her on this occasion. Her mother, her aunt, and her older sister. It would have been two sisters, once, but Narcissa only has one sister now.

To his annoyance, Regulus Black has arrived, and is holding Narcissa's hand with a tender, melancholy smile. She kisses him—on the lips!—but Lucius can't object, because it's a Family occasion.

The house elf appears, levitating the many treats for the party, all of their son's favorites. He has rather a sweet tooth, that one, Lucius thinks, just like his mama and papa, and smiles at Narcissa, who smiles back, that sweet sad smile. These three years have passed in an eyeblink, haven't they?

It's a traditional third-birthday party; the birthday boy has some of everything, gets giggly from the sugar and the butterbeer, sits on the laps of all and sundry, chases the Kneazle kitten across the drawing-room, begs his Uncle Regulus to levitate him so he can pretend he's flying a broom, incites his Aunt Bellatrix to chase him and tickle him until he begs for mercy. She's been known to tickle him until he wets himself, but not today, because he's wearing his special robes and he's a big boy now.

By now, the kitten is hiding under the ottoman, well out of the way of the disorderly revel.

The moment comes all too soon. Little Draco has been well-prepared for it; his eyes light with excitement when his father hands down the goblet. "My special drink!" he says.

"Yes, son," Lucius says, supporting the heavy goblet so that his son can put his hands on the bowl and pretend that he's drinking all by himself. As expected, he takes the first sip and makes a face at the bitterness. "We told you it would taste bad," he says.

This is the father's part: to administer the first draught, and persuade his son that bitterness is a fact of life. Draco smiles bravely and pulls the bowl of the goblet toward him, swallowing the draught as instructed ("Now relax your throat, and don't taste it," Lucius reminds him, although they've rehearsed, as one rehearses for all the important occasions of life.)

It's enough to make him sleepy; the kitten hears quiet fall, and ventures out from its shelter.

Lucius hands the child to Narcissa, who arranges him on her lap, supported against her breast and belly, with his plump little legs splayed on either side. He smiles a little; Narcissa gently removes his thumb from his mouth, where it's inevitably drifted in the habit of sleep.

"You're a big boy now," she says. Lucius hands her the goblet, and the little boy reaches for it, and with exemplary form drinks off the rest of the draught, only releasing it when the golden bowl shows bare in the candlelight, with only the tiniest ellipse of amber potion rocking in the bottom.

The kitten, unseen, climbs the drapery of her robes with its needle-sharp little claws, and settles itself against the little boy; as he's losing consciousness, his little arm curls around his pet.

It will do its duty faithfully, pacing the rose garden, as Lucius and Narcissa have done theirs.

Gradually the child's breathing slows, then ceases. The kitten is still curled next to him, asleep, for it will be a while before the warmth fades.

The solemn silence falls, and Narcissa smiles bravely. She holds the child, while her mother stands at one shoulder and her aunt at the other, their hands steadying her and reminding her to keep the dignity of a Pureblood matron. Her sister Bellatrix looks on, with that blazing look, all fire and steel, that is her chiefest beauty. (In such moments, Lucius briefly envies his brother-in-law, though in ordinary life he finds Bellatrix a bit much.)

When the breathing has stilled, and the heart has stopped, and the usual spells find no sign of life, the house elf appears to bear away the body, and the adult refreshments are served: a bracing round of Firewhiskey for all, which relaxes them from the solemn ritual of blood and House, and eases the transition to social chatter and catching-up.

Narcissa smiles as her sister compliments her pregnant glow.

"So what were you thinking of naming the next one?" Bellatrix asks. (The question is traditional, though Bellatrix is rather too casual and offhand about it, he thinks.)

Narcissa smiles. "We thought we would call him Draco. It's such a lovely name." She turns to Lucius. "Did Mafalda like the foe-glass?"

Lucius says, "Oh yes, she liked it very much." He feels a swell of pride and love for her; she's carried off the occasion with the style worthy of a daughter of the House of Black. He may wear the Mark on his arm, but she has it branded on her heart.

ooo

Author's note: This story has three godmothers, to whom it is dedicated with writerly love:

SilverSailorGanymede, whose query about Matthew Hopkirk vs Hopkins set off a plot bunny, and to whom I owe the portraits of Abraxas Malfoy and Eileen Prince (30 April 2010: and who corrected a genealogical error in the first version of the story, thereby rendering the Black family politics yet more twisty, if that were possible);

Tambrathegreat and SinisterPapayaFondue, who taught me by example how to write Lucius Malfoy as a human being.

In case you are wondering, the opening lines parody the opening of Mrs. Dalloway, and I follow Virginia Woolf's example by having my protagonist encounter old friends and acquaintances on his perambulation of London, as well as concluding with a party.

7 May 2010: I find myself a godmother in turn, to the haunting story 'The Other Draco,' by Swallow B. (see my Favorites for a link). She's very much interested in possible worlds and hidden stories. Another of her tales, 'All He Ever Had,' triumphantly succeeds in making human beings out of two of Rowling's least sympathetic characters, Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort.

21 July 2010: A godmother once more, this time to 'The Red-Haired Boy,' a multi-chaptered story by arielmoonstar (see my Favorites for a link). She asks, "Why are squibs so rare?" and in particular, "What about the Weasleys?"