HD Magic Eight Ball: The Sequel, Part 10 (Final Installment)

The 20 standard answers on a Magic 8-Ball are:

● As I see it, yes

● It is certain

● It is decidedly so

● Most likely

● Outlook good

● Signs point to yes

● Without a doubt

● Yes

● Yes - definitely

● You may rely on it

● Reply hazy, try again

● Ask again later

● Better not tell you now

● Cannot predict now

● Concentrate and ask again

● Don't count on it

● My reply is no

● My sources say no

● Outlook not so good

● Very doubtful

10 of the possible answers are affirmative (●), 5 are negative (●), and 5 are maybe (●). Using the Coupon collector's problem in probability theory, it can be shown that it takes an average of 72 questions of the Magic Eight Ball for all 20 of its answers to appear at least once.

M8B*M8B* M8B*M8B* M8B*M8B*

"Darling."

Narcissa was doing that annoying thing she'd begun doing the minute she'd received her birthday gift from the boys: rolling it about in her fingers and across the crease of her soft palm, so the milky pearl patina was admirably displayed side-by-side with her mauve manicure. The small triangular window flashed mockingly at Lucius and he controlled a chagrinned grimace with effort.

"I've been thinking…" she added, in a musing sort of way. "Darling…"

"Yes, dear one?" He rustled his paper, and peeped at her, and not without envy. Why should the boys favour Cissy so when it was clear all Lucius desired was a Ball of his own?

Both the 'boys'—and Lucius used that term very lightly, as they were decidedly in their mid-twenties, gainfully employed and flaunting unmistakably active sexual lives- with each other!—popped their respective heads up from behind their morning papers. Draco, his only son, heir and the apple pip of his quite-fond eye—after his sweet Narcissa, of course—twitched a pale brow at Lucius inquiringly. Potter, who was technically a Malfoy now, yes, but still very irksome nonetheless, directed a fond gaze toward his relatively recent mother-in-law.

"Hmm?" he murmured affectionately, clingy sop that he was. Lucius sneered lightly; by all evidence, Potter adored having a maternal figure about. But then the git was painfully obvious as to whom he cared for and whom he did not. Certainly he clung to Lucius's heir like a bloody limpet, the baby. "What's that, Narcissa?"

"Well, it's been a month or more, now, darling," she replied, making eyes at her husband, and rolled the damned Ball between her knuckles tauntingly, "and we've caught up with everyone who matters in the slightest. Too, I'm quite satisfied with the way in which you, Harry, and you, son," and here she nodded at them both approvingly, "are managing the Manor despite all this folderol with being Aurors, so…perhaps, just perhaps, it's time."

"Time?" Draco's one eyebrow climbed ever higher. Potter looked to be rapt.

"Time for what, dear heart?" Lucius knew, naturally, exactly where she was going with this delicately rambling speech of 'time'. One didn't live with Narcissa Malfoy for nigh on twenty-five years and not know when she'd reached an executive decision. And know as well that he had just about as much chance of diverting her from her eventual goal as an aged baobab tree did of diverting a rampaging erumphant on the torrid plain. Less, perhaps. "Of what do you speak of, exactly?"

Both boys obligingly lowered their papers, eyes on Narcissa. Lucius discarded his neatly, folded his hands before his empty teacup, staunchly bracing himself. His leash—he could sense this—was about to be shortened drastically.

Narcissa cleared her throat in a lady-like cough.

"Well. I've had a note from your cousin Leonié, Lucius, dear. She Owls me to say they're missing us sorely at the Spa in St. Tropez," she replied, tiny frown dissolving into a sly sidewise smile. "Something about the usual soirees being a bit of a drag, this season, and the debutantes beyond awful. It's a—well, as the boys would say, dear, it's a total drag there without us."

"Oh, really?" Lucius snorted. "You don't say?"

"And too," his wife apparently had more than one string on her bow readied, "there's the that pesky old Guillaume of yours at the vineyard, Lu, dearest. He's Owling daily, now—have you noticed? Wants you there to dig the poor old soul out of whatever mess it is he's run them into this time. A hitch with a distributer, I think? In any event, he's in dire need of your sage advice and acumen…darling." She nodded her silent son, who was listening intently, his pale gaze swiveling from one parent to the other. "Surely, darling, Draco has mentioned the matter? Or Harry?"

She turned her lovely eyes fully upon her two children—one gotten purely by blood and one by act of abruptly sudden marriage. Both shook their respective heads to the negative, and both were decidedly being very butter-wouldn't-melt about it.

Lucius's eyes narrowed: something fishy here, he just knew it.

Narcissa smiled sweetly.

"Nope, not yet," allowed Harry. "Not a peep, sorry. Er…who's this Guillaume again, Narcissa? Haven't heard of him."

"Uh-uh," Draco vouchsafed, "not a word was sent to me, Mum—sorry!" And dived right back into the Travel section. "Can't help you."

Evidently satisfied as to her son's lack of knowledge, Cissy Malfoy swung her brilliantly expectant gaze her husband's way, all the while twiddling with that damned miniature Eight Ball.

"Lu, dear?"

It was the last straw, really.

"Don't call me that—haven't I said not to ever call me by that horrid nickname, Cissy—and what? They have? What's this, Cissy? I wasn't Owled about that!" Lucius sat up straight and shoved his offensive cup away, gathering up the crumpled pages of his paper with a flurry, clenching them tightly into what were rapidly becoming fists of rage. "Draco? Explain at once! The Provence estate is your entailment; why are you not right on top of this situation? This is serious! We can't have foul-ups at the start of fiscal year—whatever goes on here?"

"Oh, no…Father," Potter piped up, his green eyes bloody huge and elf-like in his passably handsome face, "that's me, I'm afraid. Draco asked me to handle that bit, that and t'other one, the Champagne estate—and then the Dardennes one, too. I was s'posed to make arrangements for storage—wasn't it storage, love?" he stopped to glance over at his new spouse for a moment; Lucius's heir nodded ever so slightly. "But yes, Narcissa's right, there's a foul-up somewhere along the line—and I was just planning on consulting with you, sir. Really, I was. Right straight after breakfast."

"Wait, what?" Lucius roared, bewildered. "You? You're the one-?"

"But you see," Potter babbled gaily on, undeterred by Lucius's reddening cheeks, "as I understand it—that man Gilly or Gimpy or whatever can't seem to manage a simple Translation Charm, can he?. I mean to say, there's some sort of tariff involved he neglected—or maybe it's a must infestation on the grapes, or something like…or it could be that that Romanian fellow, the skeevy one you've said more than once you didn't trust, sir, any farther than you could fling him."

"What skeevy Romanian fellow?" Lucius demanded, drawn in despite himself. He leant across the table, just barely restraining himself from grasping the Potter pup by the collar and shaking some sense out of him. "D'you mean Cojocaru, Potter? Speak up, son!"

Potter nodded eagerly, his green eyes bright behind his lenses.

"Oh, yessir—just let me finish."

Lucius waved him on fretfully, sneaking a glance at his milquetoast heir, still hiding behind the Prophet's Travelogue Section.

"Go on, boy!" he snapped.

"Uh-huh…well, it's like this, from what I can pick out from the Owl Henri sent over—you know Henri, sir? He's the one with the pegleg?"

"Of course I know Henri, boy—get on with it!"

"'Kay. The chap your boy Guillaume contracted our enterprise with has ducked out altogether for some unknown reason, but what it comes down to is we've a failure in the supply side, somewhere, and now Narcissa here is telling us your man's gone quite spastic over it. I think—this is just off the top of my head, mind—"

Lucius thumped the table with a fist and opened his mouth, ready to emit a scathing diatribe about Potter who never seemed to manage to get the actual point of the matter, but the little git his son had bedded ably forestalled him.

"There's something like three thousand, two hundred and twenty one cases backlogged of just the Brut, all sitting in the Nantes warehouse facility," Potter related blithely, "and your man Guillaume cannot seem to ship them. And neither can I, sir. Seems someone will have to Portkey over and attend to it personally. Sorry."

"There, dearest," Narcissa nodded approvingly. "Now you know. You're needed, my love. And France is pleasant this time of year…"

Her tiny white Ball twirled smugly. Without a doubt.

"What! What-what-what! Potter! How could you?" Lucius howled, the morning's headlines scattering as he flung his section of the Goblin Times away altogether. "One little thing—just the one little thing! One little item I ask of the two of you—you, you twats!" He swallowed, wincing under his wife's sudden glare. "Ah—sorry—boys, then. You boys. I ask that you manage a transaction an elf could do blindfolded! A babe could do it! A Muggleborn babe, Potter! And you—and you!"

"Now, darling," Cissy shook her head at him. The Ball flashed a new message: Outlook not so good.

Lucius ceased speaking, well aware he was about to gabble incoherently, and simply stared at his son-in-law, appalled. More so than usual; appalled, that is. He was routinely appalled to simply be in possession of such as thing as a son-in-law, and a Pottery one at that! So!

This—this was worse; a thousand times worse! This was Galleons wasted and good wine lying about in caskets, undrunk by the paying masses!

"Ngh!"

"Oh…but Father," Draco finally chimed in, a proud and somewhat sappy, stupid grin gracing his undeniably sharp-and-dreadfully keen Malfoy features. "Harry here can handle it, I'm sure. You're not to worry your head over this. He's not bad at sorting out these little…issues. Why, when we had that, er, mishap with the Naugahyde people—in Hong Kong, you remember?—he just popped straight over and set them to rights." He leant forward confidingly across the intervening platters of baked goods and fruit cup, and fondly patted his husband of two-plus months upon the wrist. "Two shakes of the Elder Wand, what, Harry? Did the trick, I'd say." Proud and apparently not at all averse to showing it, Draco lounged back into his chair, raising one of those damned pale eyebrows at his own father. "Really, Father. Quite the little go-getter, our Harry. Aren't you, darling? Helps, too, to have that wicked rep of yours, love. Clout, my sweet. Hard to fuck around with the Saviour, yeah?"

Cissy—Lucius's Cissy—grinned gleefully, nodding her agreement. You may rely on it, her Ball pointed out, obdurately round in the face of all this kerfuffle. Lucius sputtered.

"Geh-gah-nrrgh!"

"Oh stop, you git!" Potter flushed and smacked Draco's arm, sloshing his tea. "You make too much of it. You're embarrassing me."

"Oh, Harry…"

Draco simpered at him. No—he practically cooed! Lucius's entirely too-overindulgent son didn't lift a finger in retaliation! Annoying sop!

They bent dangerously close to one another, under Narcissa's fond eye. Lucius brought himself up short—enough was surely enough!

"Urk! Ugh! Both of you—stop this instant! I'll not have snogging like animals over the fruit cup!"

"Hmm," Narcissa nodded, "that he is."

"What, dear?" Startled, Lucius swiveled his popped eyes to stare at his wife. His calm, composed wife, who was still twiddling her damned Eight Ball about. She was perusing a much-wrinkled Owl with an air of bland absorption.

" Guillaume, dear one. Set in his ways, that one; very unbendy. Not at all surprised this happened, really, what with his little…quirks. But, Lucius, darling, perhaps a personal touch is required? Yours, even? You know how Guillaume is this time of year. Fussy. Frantic. Needs some careful handling and poor Henri can't do a thing with him—really, it's the sort of situation you're best at, darling. Firm, but caring. Is that not correct, Ball? Isn't my husband a trooper at achieving resolutions to sticky wickets?

The pearlescent Ball between her fingers shimmied—Lucius could swear it had rolled its eyeballs, 'cept that it had none—and came up with a message in its window. He couldn't stop the instant swell of gratitude and pride filling his chest cavity, though—damned nice to know someone believed him necessary!

It is decidedly so. The Ball seemed huffy about it, all the same; Lucius could relate. He felt huffy. And remarkably out of the loop. The Champagne estate was his personal baby, as it were, from when he'd been his Father's heir-apparent, and was the one vineyard he'd thrown the majority of his precious time and effort into, since he and Cissy had first removed to France, after the…Incident.

Yes. This time the Ball seemed sure. Lucius swallowed down understandable ire. If he'd his own Ball, he could've anticipated this—solved the freight issue before Potter ever mucked with it.

"Well!" he exploded, "it would be damned spiffing if someone would mention these things—to me! I am the Head of the Family! And Potter, you pusillanimous little twat, why didn't you come to me immediately?"

"Father," Draco drawled, scowling, "Language! And it's 'Malfoy' now. Or Harry, if you so inclined."

Potter shrugged, apparently undisturbed.

"Oh, but, sir, you were enjoying your visit with us so much, and then you're on holiday, aren't you? Aurors has been damnably demanding of late, what with time off for our honeymoon and making up for it-and besides, sir. I have to accustom myself to this sort of thing, or so Draco tells me. He can't run everything. We've our other ventures to pay mind to, as well. The Balls, f'rinstance. They're doing very well with the teen Witch market."

"Bugger the Balls!" Lucius howled, jabbing an accusing finger at Potter's smarmy face. "The Champagne property isn't his to run, Potter—it's mine! No one has ever given it over to you, you little usurper!"

"Malfoy, Father. It's Harry Malfoy. Don't forget, now," Draco—that adamantine little prick delighted in pointing out. Lucius glared at him furiously, jaw dropping. "And yes, Father. You gave them all over to me just last year—nice and tight and legal-like, thanking you-and I am now equally legally wedded, and that would be to Harry here, and thus, you see—by law of co-jointure, Harry's the one minding-"

Insult, to Lucius's mind, had been heaped upon injury and then some. "This is absolutely appalling," he stated righteously. His wife's Ball echoed his sentiments: It is certain. "I have personally taken an interest in the production at Champagne these last twenty-odd years, Pot-Mal—oh, very well, Cissy! Harry, then—Harry!"

He was in turn subjected to a beady-eyed glower from his lady wife, all for a simple slip-up over the damnable ingrate's surname. Malfoy, indeed! When was a Potter ever a Malfoy? Inconceivable! But, be that as it may, the little git his son was regularly boinking in a fully—incontestably-legal sense was simply looking at him, all wide green eyes and pseudo-innocence. As was his proper son, with far less innocence of any sort glinting in those grey orbs of his!

"Just so, Father. 'Harry'. You'll manage it in time, I'm sure."

Cissy nodded. "Yes, dear. We've faith in you…don't we, Harry?"

"Ma'am," the git smiled like a bloody Slytherin. "Yes, ma'am, thank you."

"Bollocks! Harry—damn it, Harry, let me finish, will you? As I was saying, Gillaume is delicate, I admit," Lucius ground out, "and he has his little ways, true enough, but the man's an excellent overseer, not to mention the authority on grafting, so—so-!"

"So, what, Father?" Lucius's horrid gasper of an ungrateful heir wanted to know. "You're retired, aren't you? You've said—more, Mother said. Wouldn't be on hols here otherwise. Be at the estate, handling poor old delicate Guillaume. Right?"

"I am not!" Lucius roared, horrified, and rose abruptly to his feet, stomping a slippered foot. "Retired! I am quite active, you pissant, puerile twit of a boy, and don't you forget it! A Malfoy never retires—we die in harness! We are worker bees, Draco—worker bees!"

Potter—the snarky little twat—snorted happily and helplessly, falling into a series of muffled giggles over the tray of cinnamon-apple pastries. Even Draco, who was normally quite apt at listening to his honoured father with a completely straight face and at very least the polite guise of rapt attention, couldn't help but crack a wavering half-smile. Only Cissy—dear, dear Cissy, Lucius's beloved and only soulmate—remained grave in the face of this startling avowal. She gazed at him quite seriously, still fiddling with her Ball.

"Hmm," she hummed. "Perhaps I should consult my Ball, Lu? Would that help?"

You may rely on it. The miniature Ball rolled its white triangle playfully up at the stricken Head of Malfoy, winking.

Ah!

"No! No, darling—I will!"

That—why, that was brilliant! Lucius gave himself a mental pat, and reached out a hand to snatch it. He was a sodding genius!

"I'll just use this, shall I?" he demanded, with a glare round the breakfast table. "Since these puny little Muggle Orbs are so horribly prescient? Why not consult it directly, I ask you? Ball!" he commanded, imperiously. "Ball, hup! I want you! Is there really a problem with the Romanian distributor? Is old Gillaume off his nut? Tell me at once!"

"Darling!" Narcissa protested. "I really don't think…that' not at all how one uses it. Dear. Don't be so..so demanding."

Potter was shaking his uncombed head, looking at Lucius with—was that pity? Pity!

"Sir…um, y'see, there's this little problem. That's one of the newer prototypes," he twittered. "It...well, it—"

Lucius waved him off, aggravated. Draco chuckled from behind the pages of the Travel section, where he'd retreated again, the coward. His grey eyes—so like Lucius's sainted mother's—were dancing.

"Ball! Ball, I want an answer!" Lucius simply shook it harder, but the white triangular Oracle refused to settle. "Speak to me!"

Reply hazy, try again. Ask again later. Better not tell you now. The pearly Ball's triangle was going mad with avoidance tactics.

"Muggling piece of shite!" Lucius growled. He shook it again and Pot—no, Malfoy, damn his eyes, bobbed his ruffled black head wearily and then had the nerve to heave sigh at him. "It's worthless!"

"Sir—Father—really," Potter tried again. "It isn't, really. That's—well."

Narcissa, too, heaved a great woeful huff and took up her tea cup.

"Oh, Lu. I did try to tell you."

"Father, it won't work," Draco piped up. "You're not key-coded."

"Wha? What? What's that mean?" Lucius shrugged off 'key-coding' as being a piece of newfangled Muggleborn nonsense. He took up shaking the little orb with vigour once more. "Ball! I am speaking to you. Man up, then!"

Cannot predict now. The Ball was adamant. Concentrate and ask again. It advised cheerily—but in a stony, you-can't -convince-me-to-talk manner. Don't count on it. It followed up insouciantly and then the blue triangular window went the darkest of indigo shades and the Muggle messaging device disappeared altogether into its depths.

Lucius stared at it, aghast.

"Damned thing's defective, Cissy!" he announced. "What the bloody buggering fu—ahem!"

"Hardly," the Potter cub murmured slyly to his spouse. "User head-space error, more like."

"Harry!" Draco snorted, and stuck an elbow across the two inches—barely—that separated the two young whippersnappers, "stifle! Now's not the time. Can't you see Father's busy having a conniption?"

"Darling," Narcissa extended a waiting palm, patiently, "do return my birthday present to me, at once. It won't work for you, dear. The boys have spelt it my magical signature, not yours."

"Eh?" Lucius gaped. The pretty little Ball hung precariously in his limp grasp. "No! No, really? You can do that?" It was a tad smaller than the standard black ones and much…more elegant, he admitted. If he possessed one, he's like his to be in a dove grey shade, but—

"They've gone and done what, now?" he asked of his wife, finally returning the annoyingly unhelpful Muggle magick device. "'Key-carding', you say? What in Salazar's Skivvies is that?"

"It's a security device, Father," his son-and-heir grinned at him. He patted his horrid little Muggleborn true love on the crown of his ridiculous mop proudly, just to make the point. "Harry here thought of it. It's our latest improvement—Ball security. Just like a locking device on the Muggle mobiles, you know. Prevents someone lifting it; asking it questions when they've no right."

"No right?" Lucius faltered. He sat, with a thump, and his wife calmly divested him of her squirrelly present. "How d'you mean, boy—'no right'? That's m'wife! That's m'wife's Ball—certainly I have the right!"

Narcissa tilted her head at him, slitting those pretty eyes of hers dangerously.

"Thank you, darling, yes. There, there, little Ball. I'm back with you and everything's just fine, isn't it?" she cooed at her devilishly annoying Muggle magical item and actually petted it, before directing a second gimlet-eyed gaze at her husband. "Next time, dear one," she said, through her teeth, "ask first before you simply grab. It's only courtesy, Lucius."

"Er—er, well," Lucius was flabbergasted. Finally—finally—he had access to one of those horrid little Muggle magical Balls, after scouring every single toy store in London and failing, and finally—finally—he thought to make use of his family connections (Cissy was very fond of him and he, her, even after all these years together; of course she would let him have use of the thing!) and, erm…borrow it. Borrow, only. Occasionally. Now and again. Without permission.

Because neither of the ungrateful, unrepentant little whelps had seen fit to provide him one of his own, naturally. Not even though he was Malfoy Head of House and their Father (even—ick!—Potter's, by law—oh, Merlin help him!) and a competent businessman (not retired!) in his own right. He'd need of such a Ball of his own. A man needed every advantage, did they not? And surely even his spoilt son could see that—surely?

"Sorry, then," he huffed. "I see I've made a grievous error, darling," he went on stiffly, "trespassing. But how was I to know that little pri—Pot—er, Harry here had come up with a security feature for what amounts to nothing more than a child's plaything? That's—that's ridiculous! Entirely too, too much! Preposterous! It'll never sell!"

"Oh, well, sir," the annoying Potter at his breakfast table grinned at him, "that's because we've had some reports of misuse on the part of Wizarding parents—even outright theft, sad to say."

"Indeed?" Lucius inquired frostily. "Whatever do you refer to, Po—Harry?"

"Um, it's like this, Father," Draco, ever the unnecessarily helpful one in a pinch, opened his prattling maw. He'd done nothing useful, his own blood cub, or so Lucius decided, this whole time, but sit back and watch his sire be roundly humiliated. Now he'd the gall to jump in and explain matters? Hah!

Lucius snorted viciously. "Like what, Draco? Speak up, boy!"

"Several of the Wizarding parents—and grandparents, too, from what we hear—have rather...rather helped themselves to their children's possessions. For, er, purposes of the 'Change, don't you know, and um, the pro-Quidditch matches. Crup races—the Muggle Lotto; all that sort of thing. Laying wagers, I daresay, but—bad for business, isn't it? In the long run. Throws a dreadful spanner in the works, everyone up and suddenly thinking they're competent Seers. I hear tell the elder Goyles lost a packet just the other week, investing in raw Nauga. Erroneously. That particular Thestral is dead and gone. No one invests in Nauga now."

"Um, right, what Draco says, sir, is gods' honest truth—and of course we catch the blame of it," Harry spoke up, hastily swallowing the half-crumpet he'd shoved into his plebian mouth and had been chewing methodically all the while his spouse went on about petty thievery. His green eyes twinkled merrily, though, and Lucius found that quite infuriating. He didn't care to be twinkled at by his own son-in-law. "Being the manufacturers and sole distributors, y'see? Product liability and all that guff, don't you know. 'Course, we've never once claimed the Balls were one hundred percent accurate—and really, sir, how could they be? Some of those predictions are little on the cagey side, to my mind. I don't know that I'd simply toss away good Galleons on what a Muggle toy advised me to purchase high—and then sell low. That's sodding ridiculous."

"Of course not, love," Draco nodded. "So right you are."

"Draco…love."

They smiled mistily at each other, and Lucius swallowed back rising bile. "Get on with it, Harry," he gritted. His wife sent him the pleasance of a kindly glance for using 'Harry', though. Buoyed up a bit, Lucius essayed a question that had been jiggling about in the rear of his wily brain for ages.

"Still and all, Po-Harry, I've watched you use yours for exactly that purpose, son, so you can't convince me there's nothing to them," he protested, still a shade mottled about the jowls with temper. "Not buying it!"

"But they are most helpful, darling," Cissy smiled, "and charming, too, of course. Quite the fashion accessory. Why, the Parkinson chit—she has one in a marvelous shade of brilliant pink; carries it with her everywhere. And I really only use mine to order lunch, you know. And for the Lotto-naturally. And, ah, other sorts of tickets I might wish to purchase."

"You…you do?" Lucius didn't know. "Really, the Muggle Lotto, darling? But we've more than enough Funds."

He was busily processing what he'd not been able to previously, what with the blood rushing through his poor throbbing temples like that. But the trials of Guillaume were all but forgotten in the face of this revelation.

His jaw dropped as it all sank in. The Goyles had made a poor investment? They'd lost actual money? That tightfisted prick, Gregors Goyle, was possibly at point-non-plus? And he'd not heard a whisper or a peep of it, before now. Not even at the Club, in the Smoking Lounge! He goggled, and kept his attention on his lovely wife only with great effort.

"What do you mean—to order luncheon, beloved?" he faltered. "And what sort of tickets, did you say? Theatre?"

"To ascertain if the seafood's fresh, or if the chef's as excellent as he's made out to be, my love," Cissy smiled, ducking the question of mysterious tickets altogether. "You know how some of these little cafes like to brag on over the quality their provisions, don't you? I wouldn't want to be consuming a sole that's days off the ship, would I? Indigestion, love!"

Lucius understood indigestion; it had direct correlation with his overlong visit to the shores of his old home, England. In fact, it seemed that from the moment he'd set foot back on the white sands of Dover—metaphorically, of course; they'd actually Apparated straight to the Manor's foyer—he'd been plagued with it.

This lead to some serious—blindingly rapid—cogitation on Lucius's part.

First off, Draco had bedded—and wedded!—a Potter. The Potter. The arse! And then he and Cissa could hardly manage to make themselves at home in their own home what with falling every second step over his son and that blasted runt of an interloper, snogging and shagging, as if there were no tomorrow! Here, there and everywhere—even in the broom shed! On the damned table before him, actually, on one memorable morning when he'd surfaced early for tea, unable to sleep for wanting a Ball of his own—and hadn't that been a bleeding shock to the poor house elves. They'd been valiantly attempting to set out a modest repast on Great-Great Aunt Hesper's antique sideboard, the sad things, and then to be greeted by in flagrante delicto by none other than the Heir and his Pottery whor—husband?

And to Lucius, too, naturally. He'd been appalled (there was that word again; so exactly right to describe his perpetual state, these days). The Manor—and the long-suffering help—hadn't seen shagging to this degree of spontaneity since the early days of his union with Cissy. No doubt the elves were shell-shocked and gobsmacked, just as he was—constantly. Not to mention the boys were bloody inventive. He'd certainly never thought to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh smack in the middle of the billiards green!

The swimming pool.

The scullery.

The Labyrinth.

(Lucius's headache bloomed righteously). The Great Lawn, on a blanket; the roof of the South Wing, stuck fast by magic on the perilous slope of slippery tile; the Library, the Floo Parlour, the—the list went on, in a nauseatingly lengthy way.

Or bent over a marble balustrade, right smack in the middle of the Elevated Walk! Lucius had seen Potter's—Harry's—his son-in-law's raw arse! (Appalling!) Or—and this truly got his goat—in the Main Dungeon foyer, right before the display of medieval torture devices, which were all safely in unbreakable cases now, but still—how macabre! The glass was still smeared.

"Urk!" He choked on his tea, recalling the elves' expressions as they knowingly avoided that area. Thank Merlin for those mild Confundus Charms Cissy swore by for her migraines or he'd still be recalling every sloppy detail—Potter's arse, blech! And then his very own Draco; all plebian sweaty and with his hair sticking up and his neck bitten red-and-purple up and down, as if Potter were some ruddy vampire, come to suck poor Draco's life away.

Erm, no…more like Draco's willy. And the ingrate liked it, clearly, or there wouldn't be Potter-bum legally plumped at Lucius breakfast table every sodding like clockwork.

"Bah!"

"Father?" Draco looked at him. "Alright there?"

"Pah! No, I am not 'alright', Draco! Nothing is 'alright', now!"

"I'm so sorry to hear that, Father."

"Now, Lu, darling—"

"Sir," Po-Harry snapped his fingers. With a tiny 'pop', a gaily-wrapped green-and-silver paper box appeared upon the tablecloth before Lucius. It was decorated with a huge emerald satin riband bow, sloppily. "Sir, I have actually been noticing…and well, we thought you might be interested in one of your own…we hope you'll like it? Perhaps find a good use for it. As a sort of 'bon voyage' gift, maybe?"

"Ah? What? What, what?"

Lucius gazed down at the box. Examined it with careful scrutiny; the last thing he ever expected from Po-Harry was presents. Gifts? Or mayhap a bribe, was it?

"What's this?" he barked, poking it wit the tines of his winkle fork. "For me?"

"Open it, darling," Cissy purred. She blinked at him, long and slow, looking very pleased with life. "I think you'll find it…appropriate."

"Do, Father," his Heir urged. "Harry chose the colour and fob with you in mind, particularly."

Lucius did just that, but gingerly. Any present form a Potter—even if it had his wayward son's approval—was a suspicious sort of present and might just as well bite him as anything else.

The wrapping fell away under careful swoops of Lucius wand; the top of the box lifted to float off. A hovering elf nabbed it mid-air with a hop, and then DisApparated politely.

"Er? AH? What's this, then?"

'This' was a tiny, wee version of his wife's miniature Muggly Magic Eight Ball, tethered upon the finest grade of gold-linked chains, a dragon clip situated at the other end for easy attachment to waistcoat, no doubt, and glinting up at him ever so sweetly.

Outlook good.

The Baby Ball's white triangle was edged in silver; the colour of the water was silvery as well—like liquid mercury. The colour of the Ball itself was a gleaming shiny Slytherin Green, much the same buff-and-finish as the Muggle Porsche-vehicle Draco had tucked away in the Far Garage.

It was a lean little, mean little Foretelling Machine, this wee Ball.

"Lucius Abraxas Malfoy' the tiny engraved inset plate read, opposite sides to the triangles' aperture. "With love from your Sons, Draco & Harry."

"Oh," Lucius's jaw dropped. "Oh," he repeated, after the space of three long beats.

"You like it?" P-Harry asked anxiously. "It took some doing, sir. Y'see, we had to perfect the signature spell—"

"And have the engraving done, Father—"

"And then, darling, the right and proper time to present it you had to be settled," Narcissa chimed in. "And as Gillaume is being his usual sodding old self, dear, we all rather thought now would be—"

"Best, sir," Harry jumped in a second time, nodding his rumpled head furiously, "as a man of business requires every advantage and—"

"The Portkey's ready to convey you privately, as time's of the essence, Father. Good wine sitting about isn't proper, is it?"

"And darling, we're all packed up, our trunks, and I've taken the liberty to Owl dear Leonie that we'd likely drop in to Monte Carlo in a week or so—"

"Plenty of time for you to clear up Guillaume's cock-up, Father," Draco pointed out blandly. "With your years of experience at it."

Lucius firmly quelled the incipient tremble in his fingertips. The tiny Ball was a work of beauty; a top-notch exquisite little gem. He caught it up carefully, his fingertips smoothing 'round the seamless craftsmanship, the artful detailing of the chain—the aperture window—the glossy finish.

"Oh," he remarked, vacantly. "That's rather—I mean to say—um, er?"

"Thank you, darling," his wife grinned at him, looking quite fetching in her daring new frock. "'Thank you, boys' would be the appropriate response here. And also—"

"Also?" Lucius breathed, eyes darting from Draco's pleased smile to P-Harry's warm gaze and back again to the quite, quite attractive features of his beloved helpmate. "Darling?"

"You should perhaps say 'Bon voyage', dear," Cissy replied mendaciously. "The Portkey goes in a twenty minutes."

Dear enchanted_jae, it's been a very long gift-giving season! I've wished you not one but two, perhaps three Happy Birthdays along the way, all through Magic Eight Ball and it's Sequel. But…there is one more bit: an Epi, which shall be as NC-17 as I can bloody well make it, boysmexin' being the Kneazle's PJs. I do hope you like this and it's been pure pleasure for me, at least, finally completing one of my nasty WIPs. Thank you, luv! You're a treasure and an inspiration, always! Tiger