Beauty imparts neither immortality nor wisdom, though it seems few realize this. Certainly it never occurred to Draco that his mother might be mortal until the day she died, and not until many years later that she might be less than wise.
Narcissa Malfoy died on a Wednesday morning, just before breakfast was served. Draco knew this because he was sitting in the hallway just outside her chamber door when it happened, waiting to be called to the meal. Lucius Malfoy also knew this, as he was in the room at the time, having just finished speaking with her about the future—his, that is. Hers was already settled.
They had been speaking of marriage, and duty, and hearing them was like listening to ice made audible. Neither raised a voice, but they might have been speaking knives, and Draco wondered at it, for they never spoke so to each other. They saved that for fools and servants.
“Promise me this,” Narcissa said, her voice tight with emotions Draco couldn’t identify at the time, although he would later catalog them: despair, rage, pride, and a fierce, clawing possessiveness. “Promise me you will never replace me with some fool slip of a girl.”
“Once you’re gone, I’ll marry anyone I damn well please.” Draco could almost feel the air freeze after his father gave that uncharacteristically blunt response. He could well image the frigid stare his mother was giving his father, having many times been on the receiving end himself.
The frosty silence went on so long that Draco began to wonder if they had somehow managed to kill each other without him noticing. However, at last, Narcissa replied in a voice that betrayed no hint of her physical weakness, “Do that and I will curse you with my dying breath.” Lucius said nothing to this, but Draco could hear him shift uneasily. A dying person’s curse tended to be strong, vicious, and almost impossible to be rid of.
“Now that that’s understood,” Narcissa continued, “You must swear to me an unbreakable vow that you will bind yourself to no one less beautiful than me. Millicent can be our bonder.” Lucius did as commanded—something his son had not considered possible—swearing to bind himself to only one as beautiful and well-bred as Narcissa. As he swore these things, the room lit up so that even Draco, on the other side of the closed door, could see it.
The light went out, leaving Draco blinking away glowing spots in the dark. Then the door opened to reveal Lucius. Draco scrambled to his feet and tried to unobtrusively brush away the dirt which always materialized on his robes in the presence of his father. For a long moment father stared at son wordlessly, face unreadable. Had Draco not grown up with such looks, he would have been unnerved by it. But even he was made uneasy, and had to force himself not to show his discomfort. At last, as if Draco had passed some test, Lucius stepped back from the door and said expressionlessly, “Come here, Draco.”
Mouth dry and palms wet, Draco did as bid, half-suspecting what his father wanted him to see. The window was shuttered, wrapping the room in darkness normally only found at midnight. Millicent stood by his mother’s bed, her face looking white and strained in the candle light. She glanced up when Draco entered, and stopped back wordlessly. Without being told, Draco took her place. As he bent over the bed, he could feel his father watching him, could almost feel him judging each motion Draco made. But it was always so with Lucius; he went through life in judgment of those around him, and few of his pronouncements were favorable.
Narcissa lay motionless, eyes closed and face pale and exquisite in the flickering light. Draco didn’t touch her, but merely memorized her form; this was the last opportunity he would have to see her. He refused to throw it away, no matter what his father chose to make of his sentimentality. “She’s dead, then,” he said at last, attempting to keep his voice as free from emotion as his father’s and grateful when it remained steady.
After another drawn-out silence, his father tilted his head in acquiescence. “Yes,” he said, his voice still empty of feeling. “And whatever was said between us in this room is dead also. Do you understand, Draco?” His eyes had been blank, but now they were suddenly very cold, and hard. Draco fought back a shiver. This, he knew, was how Lucius looked when facing an enemy—and anyone who crossed him in any matter, great or small, was an enemy.
“Yes, my lord father.”
Lucius pressed further, relentless in his dissatisfaction. “I want you to swear that, Draco. Swear to me you will say nothing to anyone of what you heard just now. Do you swear it?” His voice was so fierce that this time Draco couldn’t conceal his flinch.
“I swear it,” he said hoarsely.
“Good,” said Lucius, some of the tension seeming to ease out of him. “Then run along and get something to eat. And send Severus to me if you happen to see him.” Draco, correctly taking this as both a dismissal and an order to find Severus before even thinking about his meal, left. And he carefully did not speculate what the consequences of his father’s oath might be.
He successfully carried on not thinking about it until after his mother’s funeral, at which time he was sent away to be page at another lord’s court and all thoughts of the oath fled his mind. And he didn’t think about it again until years later when he was called back home, a few months before his sixteenth birthday.
His father greeted him at the gate, tall and fair and ageless still, although his surroundings seemed lesser than Draco’s remembering of them. “Draco,” he said, and one corner of his mouth curled in what might have been amusement or sly, secret pleasure. “Perhaps I should have called you home sooner.”
“My lord father,” Draco greeted him in turn, inclining his head to the precise degree representing familial deference. “It has been many years.” But not many enough to keep him from feeling like an unwashed little boy when faced with his father.
. . . For she had been beautiful and clever and mostly obedient, and Lucius had loved her in his own way—as much as he could love anyone other than himself.
He cherished no illusions; he knew Severus only seemed to care because it was currently advantageous for him to so appear—although sometimes late at night he pretended it wasn’t all lies. But Severus was the only one at all likely to not go running straight to Draco’s father.
“What if I required a kiss in payment?”
“I would give it,” Draco answered without hesitation. Severus raised an eyebrow.
“And if I claimed more?” His tone was of disinterested inquiry, but his eyes were unreadable. Draco bit his lip.
“I . . . if it was only once, and you didn’t seek to bind me by it, I . . . yes.” Severus’ face tightened at this, but Draco continued, blind to everything but the horror awaiting him. “I would not wish to be anyone’s catamite, however briefly, but I could survive it once to avoid becoming one for life. Although,” he added with bleak humor, “I should warn you I’d probably throw up afterward.”
Severus’ voice was unusually rough. “Let us hope it will not come to that.”
. . . and it was sweet and gentle and chaste, and all the things his father’s kiss had not been, and Draco found some part of his terror lessened by it. It spoke of trust and love, and of hope, even hope in the dark.