Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Word Count: 2200
Summary: After Voldemort's return, he and Bellatrix find a season of rest together. But it isn't their nature to stay like that for long.
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It is a war room, this, but the Malfoys are too delicate to call it one.
He thinks this in the Malfoy ballroom, which is now loosely referred to as his study. It isn't. There is no privacy here, no quiet in which to reflect. People gather in corners and look at maps and brainstorm about battle techniques.
Already, there is a loose plan evolving to take the prophecy from the Ministry, though it will be some time before it can be carried out. He needs to know what the prophecy says. He needs to understand why the first war went so terribly, terribly wrong.
More, he needs to know his destiny.
Not that he intends to yield. But he has tried to fight it before, without all the facts, and the cost was far too high. To him, and to Bellatrix as well.
Bellatrix is an unwelcome thought. She is maddeningly close, in Azkaban, but she is hostage to the Dementors, a new treaty still a work in progress. The Dementors have no real need of alliances at all, so they build their treaties on sentiment. They liked him, when they joined forces with him over a decade ago, because he was a predator like them. Now, they want assurance that he still is.
He isn't, at least not the way he was before, but he cannot afford for anyone to know it. If the Dementors doubt him, he will lose his chance to free Bella.
It isn't only the Dementors who cannot know. He lives with people who hate and fear him, and if they thought for a moment that he was no longer the strongman they remembered, they would turn on him. And he is not confident in this new body of his. So far it has followed his will, but with less vigour and consistency than he would like. He is not certain how it might perform in a fight with his own men, men who know his fighting style well.
The Horcruxes are his failsafe, of course. No matter what they do to him, he will ultimately prevail. But he has learned vividly that he can still suffer. And he has suffered quite enough these last fourteen years.
So he stalks around his so-called study, intimidating his soldiers with withering looks and displays of strength that have been carefully practiced in secret first. Pretends to care about conquering the wizarding world, but the truth is, he is no longer sure he wants it.
It isn't that he has forgiven or forgotten, and it isn't that he has ceased to desire a world in his image. But he has endured a great purging, and he is no longer convinced that the victory will satisfy him. The idea strikes him rather like a heavy meal after a fast - mildly appealing, but also vaguely sickening and fundamentally unsatisfying. He finds himself craving quiet and solitude, so he can figure out what else he might want, even more than the world.
One thing he wants more, at least right now, is Bella. In the old world, she was his faithful one, the one whose loyalty was to him and not just to his ability to win. She is one person he could safely tell the things rolling around in his mind. Not that he ever would, but it would comfort him to know that he could.
Of course, she may not be like that anymore. Azkaban does strange things to people, and he has gleaned enough from Lucius to know that it has taken its toll on her.
Well, that is a problem for tomorrow. Today's problem is to keep his men working for him, for the treaty, for Bella's release. Tomorrow's is the prophecy and whatever Bella has become.
And after that?
Well, perhaps there will be some new destiny, born out of whatever he is becoming, too.
The Bellatrix that finally enters his study, the day after they break her out, is not the Bella he remembered.
She is pale, naked of makeup or jewellery, and her hair falls in subdued waves. Narcissa's magic had been no match for Bella's matted tresses, weakened by too many years without light or decent food, and most of it came out with the brush. It has re-grown with the aid of potions and spells, but it is fragile, soft and baby-fine. Replacing hair, especially overnight, requires nutritional stores that Bella simply doesn't have.
There is something ethereally appealing about her like this, he thinks as he rises to his feet. He has never liked weakness, but this is different. He is reminded of the stories of the Christian martyrs. Her frailty is a thin façade over the steel that twines through her very bones.
He has re-encountered many of his followers, and has studied their thoughts. They vary, but two things are constant: First, the moment of searching his radically-altered features for something familiar, wondering whether it is really him (and they invariably fail to find it). And secondly, a taint of revulsion. He wonders with a chill, as she lifts her head to look at him head-on, what she will think.
What she thinks is, I'd know him anywhere.
That propels him forward. He comes around his desk and approaches her. Lucius and Rodolphus, looking over maps of the Ministry, look up abruptly, and then down again just as quickly. He ignores them.
She is walking to him in even, measured paces. They both are. It's a long room, and it reminds him, walking to one another like this, of a wedding. A wedding of old, a handfasting outdoors without fanfare in simple clothes. He can imagine it as though he was there, can almost hear the rustling of leaves and smell the dank scents of the woods after the rain.
When, finally, they reach each other, she lifts her hand to touch his face. He allows it, watching her as she traces curious fingers over his features. Watches as she compares cheekbones and jaws, seeing him then, and now, and then dismissing both as irrelevant.
It's an intimate gesture, familiar, as though she has touched him this way before. She hasn't. She was willing, but he wasn't. Favouritism and sleeping with a soldier's wife were both recipes for discord in the ranks.
But now his ranks are with him only from fear. There is no cohesion to preserve anymore. There is only him and her and whatever rebellion he can cobble together out of their terror, and when it is done he will discard them all. All but her.
He takes her hand. Lifts it to his lips. Bends his head and kisses it, raising his eyes to meet hers. Her face is pale and solemn but he is scorching a blaze of hope across the arid plains of her mind.
"My Lord," she whispers.
"My Bella," he says. It isn't a question.
"Yes," she agrees. "Yours."
He goes to her room that night.
She starts when he opens the door, and begins to rise. His voice, voice of command, stays her. "Be still, Bella. As you were."
She pauses, then resumes her previous pose, over on her side, her back to the door. She gives no response as he joins her there, curling his body over hers.
I missed you, he thinks into the darkness, his head dipped to the back of her neck. Arm firm around her body. They are words he would never say aloud, but he allows her to hear them in her mind, and she draws her hands closer, over his arm across her breast.
He takes her, still holding her that way, around and behind her, slow rolling movements that are almost an afterthought. Joining with her like it was just a small detail absent-mindedly left undone, then put to rights. Their climax is not so much a rising as a sinking, a descent into dark, warm water. Sighs that are slow and deep and profoundly content.
It isn't until morning that he kisses her for the first time. It is another belated thing put to rights. He kisses her slowly and thoroughly, leaning over her, those soft baby-fine tresses spilling out over the pillow beneath her. She sighs that deep, contented sigh again, loose and boneless beneath him. Sighs it over and over as he sinks down onto her, then into her. Weighing her down lovingly until they are utterly at rest.
He thinks he could rest that way with her forever.
It doesn't last.
Oh, it lasts for a while. A season of rest. A season of walks in the grounds, of talks on the balcony, of mornings in bed watching the rain. A season to heal.
But he is what he is, and she is what she is, and it is not in the nature of either of them to rest for long.
Her body gets well in inverse proportion to her mind. He can trace her recovery in the glossy, thick cables of her hair, but her ability to sink deep into rest with him is deserting her. Her sanity is a dissolving thing, thin places in the fabric of her mind weathered into ragged holes. Reflection and rest are replaced by fidgeting and anxious pacing, nervous energy seeking an outlet. Bella is a warrior at heart, and she is a warrior in need of a war.
It's happening to him, too. As his strength returns, his temper frays, and his gentleness for her breaks into brittle little pieces.
Their slow, decadent lovemaking becomes tedious. There is still something exquisite about it, still dimly visible (to him, at least), but its substance eludes them both. They become terse and frustrated with one another. Once, the household politely ignored their affair, but now it ignores friction between them that could be cut with a knife.
Then finally, there is a day when he is simply aggravated beyond measure, over something trivial or other, and he shoves her hard to the wall by the throat. He looms over her, pinning her with his body. Not wanting to hurt her, not really. But wanting, sincerely and with every inch of his body, for her to shut the fuck up.
Bella cackles with satisfaction. There are pink spots high in her cheeks and she licks her lips in anticipation.
He leans closer, his lips very nearly touching hers. "You like this, Bella?" he says with more than a hint of menace. She cackles again, and he grips her neck again, pulling her up closer, watching as her eyes find his, gleaming and wide. "You like it?"
Her lips, searching for his, are answer enough. He grasps her chin, tight enough to hurt, and pulls her hard into a kiss.
"Fuck, yes," she groans as he strips her, as he bends her over and takes her. Fucking her until the blaze in her body outstrips the blaze in her fractured mind.
There is a moment, though. A moment when his arm is stretched out, her hand bracing against his, fingers entwined. A moment when she cranes closer to kiss him. A moment when fucking her is an afterthought and all that matters is the way they reach for one another.
He catches a glimpse of that exquisite thing between them, and then it is gone.
"I know what you're thinking," she says when they're done.
She doesn't. Bella is too far gone to know what they had and lost.
"What am I thinking, then?" he wonders.
They are standing companionably, half dressed, leaning against the windowsill where he'd had her. Rain dots on the leadlight panes behind her.
What he is actually thinking is that he doesn't believe they will ever be together in a bed again. It is a thought that makes him feel a deep, dull ache. It sinks into his stomach, dropping there like a stone, rolling leisurely into anger at those who did this to her. To them both.
"You're thinking the world is going to be yours."
No, he thinks. I'm thinking it already was.
But that is in a world where they might have become something…something else. A world of possibilities lost.
He says slowly, after a moment, "I'm thinking we're predators, you and I. We make the world into what we want it to be. We don't bend to it, and when it hurts us, we make it pay."
That moves her, visibly, for the first time in weeks. Makes her eyelids flicker and her features soften and her throat grow hard. She swallows hard.
She reaches for him. Kisses him, feral and hungry, but she tastes of tears, and he wonders if, somewhere in the tattered remnant of her mind, she knows what they lost after all.
"Then make it pay," she growls. "Make it yours if you can. Destroy it if you can't. But make it pay."
He no longer wants victory, but he wants revenge for them both. He wants it more than he wants the world.
"Yes," he says, and he yields to his destiny after all.