The piercing squawk of a peacock shattered the quiet morning as Draco Malfoy swooped by on his broom. Below him, lounging in the grass several meters from the flock, a dark-haired girl watched the sky. Delphini Lestrange was eleven-years-old: a very important age for a young witch or wizard. Her cousin Draco, too, was finally eleven; his birthday had come and gone just a bit over a month ago, and in this, he was lucky as all the summer-born witches and wizards were. Delphini herself had been born in late October, and so she would be nearly twelve by the time she finally made it to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The wait had felt nearly intolerable.
Of her eventual attendance, though, there had always been no question. Like Draco, Delphini had been clearly magical right from the start; accidental magic had followed her since her infancy (and Draco since his toddling years). They had both been waiting on their Hogwarts letters for a very long time--and today, those letters would finally arrive.
Delphi's dark eyes scanned the horizon as Draco whizzed past her once again. Delphi had a broom of her own, of course, but she had never very much liked flying; she preferred to leave the Quidditch to her cousin. Instead, she kept up her vigil, watching eagerly for the Hogwarts owl. Absently, she wondered where her little Boros had got off to, but she wasn't surprised by his disappearance. That one always made himself scarce whenever he knew an owl would be visiting the manor, and Delphi had talked of nothing else for days now. She only hoped that he wouldn't be gone long.
A loud crack split the relative silence, quite a bit more startling than the bird's shriek had been. Delphi leapt to her feet in an instant, jolting with the realization of what it must have been.
A few meters off, Draco dove toward the ground and landed rather gracelessly on the grass. At least he hadn't toppled this time.
"She's here," Draco called out to her, his voice unnecessarily dark and ominous.
Delphi, though, was relieved to hear this displeasure in his voice; his discomfort helped to put her own at ease. "You make it sound so... serious."
Draco's broom was propped lazily against his shoulder as he approached her. "Isn't it?"
Delphi shrugged. "At least she isn't your grandmother. Who cares what she thinks of you?"
All she got from him was subtle shake of his head. "Clearly, you haven't overheard the horrors I have."
Delphi raised a brow at this, wondering when her cousin could've had a chance to eavesdrop on anything that she hadn't--and why, if he was telling the truth, he hadn't offered her these stolen secrets immediately. But there was no time to ask him; another crack, and there was Dobby, the Malfoy family's wide-eyed and miserable house elf, standing before them. "Mistress says the young masters are to come greet Mistress Lestrange in the drawing room," he squeaked in that high little voice of his, and then he was gone again. No doubt Narcissa had given him a meters-long list of other tasks to do today.
Draco and Delphi shared a look. "We'd best," Delphi said.
Draco sighed, dropping his broom carelessly into the grass for the house elf to fetch later, and the two children headed in.
Madame Adrasteia Lestrange, the grand and elderly mother of Delphini's own father, Rodolphus Lestrange, was a stately, no-nonsense, and rather unaffectionate woman swiftly approaching her centennial. She'd seemed ancient, distant, and cold for as long as Delphi could remember; Delphi could not recall a single instant of the woman holding her as a child, kissing her tenderly on the forehead or cheek, or even so much as smiling in her direction. This, though, was not something Delphi paid much mind.
They rarely saw Grandmother, after all. She wasn't even related to the Malfoys--not any more than all purebloods were related to one another, at least. Delphi might have been Draco's first cousin, but that was through her mother's blood; the Lestrange branch of the family was on her father's side. And far be it for such a proper pureblood woman to impose too often upon relatives who weren't even tied by blood.
So, even though it had been nearly five years since they had last seen her, Madame Lestrange did not seek out the children. Only when supper finally arrived did Delphi finally set eyes upon her grandmother once again. The woman looked positively regal as she sat to the right of Lucius's place at the head of the table. Beside Grandmother sat Narcissa, her pale eyes watching the children like a hawk for the slightest hint of impoliteness, and Draco and Delphi sat side-by-side across from the women, bristling with excitement. Unless something had gone wrong, Narcissa or Lucius would have received their letters by now; Delphi, for one, could hardly wait to get her hands on hers.
But impatience, of course, was never proper. Delphi and Draco ate in silence, each barely able to control their excitement as Lucius, Narcissa, and Madame Lestrange droned on. Though she hadn't seen them for half a decade, the old woman hardly had two words to offer either Draco or Delphini. "She's still rather small for twelve, isn't she?" was the one comment lobbed in Delphi's direction, its tone so distasteful as to almost sour her mood.
"I'm eleven," Delphi snapped unthinkingly--then felt her heart sink at the furious look on Aunt Narcissa's otherwise pretty face.
Madame Lestrange ignored her entirely, as if Delphi's voice had been little more than a particularly intrusive gust of wind, and the meal went on with the shadow of Narcissa's eventual wrath hanging over Delphi's head.
Not until dessert did the conversation finally turn in the direction the children had been craving. "Well," Madame Lestrange finally said in that stately, I'm-in-charge voice of hers, "let's hear it, then. Have the children got their letters?"
Narcissa smiled fondly across the table at her son and her niece, though Delphi knew better than to assume her earlier outburst had been forgotten. Even Lucius had the vague hint of proud approval about him as his wife answered, "Of course, Adrasteia! There was never any question of it. Draco and Delphini will be attending Hogwarts on the first of September."
Madame Lestrange nodded imperiously. "Quite right," she said, affixing her judgmental stare once again upon her granddaughter. "Though I must say I sometimes wish there were a better option. Hogwarts is no place for families such as ours, not with Albus muggle-loving Dumbledore as Headmaster."
Lucius merely shrugged, which Delphi privately thought a very brave thing to do when faced with one of Grandmother's opinions. "Dumbledore was already Headmaster when Narcissa and I attended, Adrasteia, and I'd say we came out of it no worse for the wear. A properly raised pureblood child can withstand even Dumbledore's meddling."
"Fair enough," Madame Lestrange conceded. "The Headmaster, at least, has little direct interaction with the students. The day-to-day minutiae of the school comes down to the teachers themselves--and especially to the Heads of House. Who is it now for Slytherin, Lucius? I seem to recall you saying you knew the lad?"
Lucius nodded and took a long sip of red wine. "Severus Snape," he answered. "An acquaintance from my own school days, in fact. Never would've dreamed he'd end up a teacher, I'll admit it, but he's a proper head on his shoulders... For the most part."
"I don't recognize the name Snape. An American lineage, perhaps?"
Lucius's lips twitched slightly downward into the faintest hint of a disapproving frown as he answered, "Half-blood. His mother was pure, I believe, and apparently severely deficient when it came to self-respect."
Madame Lestrange snorted derisively, and Delphi exchanged a little look with Draco at this most improper sound. "Yes, it's the girls you need to watch out for. The boys dally in secret, and you end up with just another little Mudblood none the wiser to their father's shame. The girls, though... the girls have to carry that filth inside them, and they never break free of that humiliation." She shook her head; apparently, she could imagine no worse tragedy than a pureblood woman giving birth to a Muggle's halfblood spawn. Delphi paled as Madame Lestrange suddenly looked very sharply at her. "You'll remember that, I hope, once you've headed off to Hogwarts. You might be my only descendant beyond the walls of Azkaban, but that doesn't mean I won't disown you if I find out you're becoming a disgrace to the name Lestrange."
"Yes, Grandmother," Delphi said quietly. She could feel her cheeks starting to warm up, and she dropped her gaze back to her plate. She would be twelve very soon, yes, but that didn't mean she had so much interest in boys that there was any reason to worry about...
Across the table, Madame Lestrange let out a heavy sigh. "And we're getting fewer every year, aren't we? My own sons couldn't stay out of trouble long enough to breed the healthy stock they were supposed to... Pure Wizarding blood is quickly whittling down to nothing. A few more generations, and there will be nothing but Weasleys left. At the rate those little freaks breed..." She shook her head again. "We should start thinking of marriage prospects for Delphini as soon as we can, of course. These days you can't wait for the children to sort it out for themselves; there's too much Muggle blood in Slytherin now, too much risk she'll bring home some lying halfblood pretending he's worth something." She barked out a laugh. "A halfblood Head of Slytherin, really. Never thought I'd see the day..."
Delphi glanced upward just in time to see her grandmother turn to Draco. "I still think you should've raised these two with less... familiarity. It's one thing that they're cousins; it's another entirely that they were raised as siblings. You've ruined a good match, Lucius; I daresay now they'd be just a tad too incestuous."
Delphi choked. Coughing uncontrollably, she could see Narcissa glaring at her once again, but she didn't care. Madame Lestrange wanted her to marry Draco? Merlin's mercy, it was a horrifying thought.
"Yes, see?" her grandmother said, gesturing toward Delphi with a look of distaste. "That's precisely the reaction I was talking about! She's acting as though I suggested she wed her brother, not her cousin. But will she have any other choices? She might have to look outside of Britain to find them! Hogwarts will be difficult for her, you know. My idiot boys... And no offense to your sister, Narcissa, dear, but I do wonder what those three were thinking when they got themselves carted off to Azkaban. Now, don't either of you mistake me; the Dark Lord's mission was a worthy one. But for them to throw their lives away after that misfortune with the Potters... Outright absurdity. If I could've got my hands on those three before the Ministry did, the dementors would have seemed merciful in comparison, rest assured. But I digress; I merely mean to say that her reputation will precede her when it comes to her prospects. My sons and dear Bellatrix were three of the only Death Eaters convicted of their crimes; the rest of you had a bit of common sense."
"She'll find someone," Narcissa said certainly, eyeing Delphi almost as appraisingly as the woman at her side. "She has her mother's looks, and once she grows into them--"
"Does she, now?" Madame Lestrange interrupted. Her eyes were narrowed as she surveyed Delphini. "I always assumed she would begin to resemble her mother more as she grew older, but I still can't say I see much of Bellatrix in her. The coloring is right, and I daresay she has her mother's hair, but the features..."
Delphi sank down in her chair, just a little. She hadn't expected to face this kind of critique tonight, not when she was so excited about going to school. What did it matter what she looked like? What did it matter whether anyone would want to marry her? That was all years away, and the less she thought about it now, the happier she would be.
"She is a pretty little thing, though, isn't she? She'll have that going for her, at the very least." Grandmother's eyes narrowed once again in Draco's direction. "Such a shame, though, to know that at least one good option is already off the table. Imagine if she's stuck with that little troll the Goyles produced. Or the Crabbe boy!"
Delphi, who had on occasion met both of the young men in question, couldn't help agreeing with her grandmother; Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle were followers, easily swayed by stronger personalities (like Draco's, who had already become something of the de facto leader of the boys) and undeniably dimwitted when it came to thinking for themselves, and the notion of marrying either of them struck Delphi as a rather horrifying prospect. Beside her, though, Draco looked more than a bit miffed at this slight to his friends.
"She'll do fine for herself," Lucius said reassuringly. Delphi glanced up toward where he sat at the head of the table, and she smiled faintly. Her uncle's vote of confidence, at least, made her feel just a bit better. "Pureblood boys may be few and far between, but the girls are in no more plentiful supply. Few can say their daughters have such noble ancestry as the daughter of a Black and a Lestrange, and she certainly has her looks going for her. Mark my words, Adrasteia; in a few years' time, she'll have prospects across the continent. Good looks and good breeding makes wizards take note." He looked at his wife as he said this, and Narcissa's lips curled into a tiny smirk of satisfaction.
Madame Lestrange shrugged. "At least a foreign pureblood is still a pureblood. Still... I do wonder if it wouldn't have been better to send the children both to Durmstrang. Even Beauxbatons might offer them more than life under Dumbledore's eye will..."
On that vaguely ominous note, Madame Lestrange's voice trailed away, apparently content to let the thought die out. The subject shifted back to the meal once again, now that their dinner plates were cleared away and replaced with their dessert. Delphi and Draco listened disinterestedly as Grandmother's complaints rambled on, moving away from Dumbledore's regime to the performance of the house elf, Dobby, then to the goblins of Gringotts and beyond. Delphi paid as little attention as she could get away with, and by the time the meal was over and both she and Draco were dismissed with copies of their Hogwarts letters in hand, Delphi all but dashed from the dining room with her heart fit to burst from renewed excitement.
Her eyes traveled the parchment again and again, a broad grin stretching across her lips. "We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," it began, and it ended with the signature of one Minerva McGonagall, who Delphi vaguely recalled was a teacher at the school in addition to her stated post of Deputy Headmistress. And on the next page, there was a list of the materials she would need to bring with her to school.
Delphi wandered back into the yard as she read, gaze affixed to the letter in her hands as she meandered along the garden path.
"Watch it!" A soft, warning voice interrupted her thoughts, and Delphi tore her gaze from the parchment at once. Looking down, she sought out the speaker, and then, upon seeing him, crouched down to offer Ouroboros her hand.
The little snake coiled around her fingers, then her wrist, and it traveled up her arm until it once again found it usual place atop her shoulders, mostly hidden beneath her thick black hair. "I wondered where you'd got off to," Delphi told him, and she looked at the book list once more. "My letter came today, just as I said."
"We'll be off to Hogwarts, then?"
Delphi looked down at the poisonous little snake draped around her neck, and she grinned. "We will be there," she assured him, "very, very soon."