Content rating PG. Warning for incest. About 850 words.
A/N: Fourth in my Ballads series. Inspired by the Irish Folk Ballad of the same name, which is downright spooky if you pay attention to the lyrics. Lyrics can be found here; an mp3 of it is here. (Let me know if the latter link expires and you'd like a copy.)
The ballroom of Malfoy Manor is lit by several hundred candles, hovering well above the heads of the several hundred guests, casting light charmed to render all ladies fair and all gentlemen flattered in its pleasing glow.
Two of the room's occupants, at least, need none of its flattery. Malfoy père and Malfoy fils each play host at different ends of the ballroom; neither of them overly animated, and worlds away from anything approaching hearty, but not without their own refined warmth. Polite charm and elegance; any guest speaking to either of his hosts leaves his presence knowing he is not only welcome but wanted, here at this holiday gathering.
Everyone there knows the senior Malfoy was hardly a merry soul even before he was widowed--a trumped-up prison sentence will do that, despite the travesty being set to rights one year later--and his wife's death has left him even more sober a man. So his guests laud him, in their own thoughts, for his gracious smiles and his generosity with his wines and ballroom and dining hall upon such holidays. They could hardly ask more of a man widowed only these five years.
There are always new guests at these gatherings, however--friends of friends, new spouses, et cetera--who wonder why the Malfoy heir is so very like his father, showing little of the spontaneous cheer common to youth. Surely his mother's loss is not enough to affect him quite as deeply as it does his father? Draco so young and privileged, with so much of life ahead of him?
If those new guests voice such thoughts--well, they do not say it quite like that. The exchange is more like to go like this:
"Draco still lives at home? What a dutiful son. His father must be lonely." That, said by one of these newer guests.
Elaborated upon by another of them: "How old is he now--twenty-three, twenty-four? Did you say he was unattached? You'd think he'd have a swarm of eligible ladies about him, what with his looks and position."
"Don't you know?" It should be plain that this speaker is not one of those newer guests. "The lad's nursing his own broken heart. A deep loss. Tragic."
Which of course evokes murmurs and urges to tell more, from those who have not yet heard this story.
At these gatherings, the tale is likely to be related several times, and by different storytellers. Significantly, it never goes quite the same.
"Just after the war. After his mother died."
"He'd gone to France, you know..."
"...in Belgium, it was."
"...a Beauxbatons girl. Agnes was her name..."
"...good old wizarding family, full of tradition..."
"...not rich, you understand. But blood pure as Salazar's."
"...mad for her, he was. Never saw her myself, but they said she was beautiful, hair like a cloud..."
"...bringing her home to meet his father..."
"...nervous, she was, for all that he said money didn't matter..."
The ending of the story has almost no variation.
"Draco came home from the continent alone..."
"...said the last he saw of her, she'd been going home to pack."
"...if she'd just got cold feet or changed her mind, she'd not have vanished like that, would she?..."
"...last they saw of the girl."
"Heartbroken, he was."
"More than a little mad with it."
"Never says her name."
"Keeps no pictures of her."
And all those hearing the story for the first time echo, Poor boy, and they, too, admire the younger Malfoy for putting such a brave face on his grief. Of course he cannot be expected to seek another bride just yet, not after such tragedy.
The party continues until the latest of hours, but no guest is so tipsy that he cannot apparate himself home at its conclusion. Leaving the two Malfoy men to look about at the detritus of their successful social gathering, and seek their own rest.
In the same wing. In the same suite, the same room.
Father and son; one widowed, one near as--or so rumor has it.
Rumor that Draco Malfoy began himself. Naming no names, fixing no one country for the story, knowing well that gossip invents those details as it spreads. The broken-hearted son, unwilling to seek any other female companionship just yet. Of course it explains why there are no pictures of the girl, why no one would be so tactless as to press Draco for further details.
Of course it is fitting, given these circumstances, for him to continue to live at home with his widowed father.
The father he loves. Loves more, and differently, since Narcissa Malfoy's death left the two of them alone together.
And if, entwined at night, away from eyes that would be shocked if they knew the truth...if at those times the Malfoy men are a little less somber than they usually pretend, well. They deserve a moment to relax their guard a little.