Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Summary: When Nagini is slithering around his body as he thinks of other things, he simply ceases to notice her. Rather like Bella, in fact. It is an unawareness he would allow only with them, these two females bound to him by expedience, and enjoyed by chance.
Word Count: Approx 4100
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
Bella says this in a rare moment of lucidity. Her madness is a capricious thing, flaring up without warning, sometimes as fury, sometimes frustration, then softening to a gentle bubbling of imbalance and hilarity and whimsy.
She is as scarred by their years apart as he, but where his takes the form of disfigurement, hers is an interior thing. Merlin knows, he misses the charisma he once had, easy persuasion smoothed along by good looks and a veneer of good humour, but he still has his mind. She does not, and in her clearer moments, she knows it, and grieves for it. It tinges her devotion, so gratifying to him, with a reflectiveness that disconcerts him.
He has never loved her, but he has enjoyed her attention, oh yes. It has pleased him down the decades, enough for him to tolerate her intimacies and her liberties and her minor disobediences when they are alone. He values her fear and her devotion both, but fear is common and devotion rare.
"Who is beautiful?" he wonders now. She is standing in the doorway, watching him with a gentle, and completely sane look on her face. But she's looking directly at him and he can't imagine who she might mean.
She passes over the threshold that separates her bedroom from his. Lucius had not thought to query whether Bella would be resuming her role as his mistress, though he had left her in Azkaban for six months after his return.
He would have left her longer, but by then it was clear that his disfigurement was permanent. He is accustomed to perfection and now it is gone. He sees it in the faces of his soldiers, men who had once admired as well as feared him. The only one who sees his magnificence anymore is her. He would not admit to anyone, but it stings. It stings badly. For that alone, he intends to kill Potter himself.
She had become his mistress as a girl of twenty. He had been looking for a suitable one for a while by then, and had almost given up on finding one. His unmarried status had become a serious issue for his political credibility. The aristocratic social stratum was built on marriage, and his lack of it was taken for latent irresponsibility and a lack of integration into the conventions of their society. And, too, as his first generation of followers reached middle age, they grew suspicious of his single-mindedness; they would have trusted him more, they said among themselves, if he had the steadying presence of a good woman behind him.
He would not countenance marriage, but by way of concession, he began the search for a female companion. She must be married, but already estranged from her husband, to avoid discord among his followers. She must be without children, as he could not abide them. Bella's marriage had buckled within a year under the weight of her husband's proclivities, which ran to his own sex. It was not an uncommon outcome for marriages arranged so young, but usually there had been time for a child first. They lived in amicable separation under a single roof and a paper-thin veneer of married respectability.
So she had become his lover with no loss of goodwill, and to his surprise, the arrangement had been agreeable as well as expedient. Flattery was a common part of his life back then, but invariably connected to an agenda or a motive. That did not disrupt his enjoyment, but it required evaluation and a clear head, too. Bella's flattery, he gradually realised, was utterly sincere. The simplicity of dealing with her was refreshing; the unconditional admiration pleasing. She simply adored him, fanatically, devotedly, with no other loyalty than him.
She still does. Even now.
She sits now on the chair beside his bed, where he sits upright, leaning against the headboard. "Her," she says softly by way of answer. "She's beautiful."
It takes him a second. Nagini is so much a part of him that sometimes he forgets she's there. He is aware of her when he pets her, but when she is slithering around his body as he thinks of other things, he simply ceases to notice her. Rather like Bella, in fact. It is an unawareness he would allow only with them, these two females bound to him by expedience, and enjoyed by chance.
She reaches out to touch, and he opens his mouth to command Nagini to allow it, but to his surprise, the snake is already arcing into her hand. She strokes the snake's face with tenderness, tracing a gentle finger between unblinking eyes, then down between nostrils flaring gently with breath. Nagini watches with interest, stretching out beneath her touch.
Watching them, he feels something, vague but intolerable, and he doesn't know why.
"She kept you alive," she says, still petting the snake. "She still does."
Appalled, too stunned to lie, he demands, "How do you know that?"
Bella looks up at him, with a look of confusion that suggests that the answer is obvious. "I feel you with me. In her. Even when you're not here."
He wants to sneer at her - she isn't prone to sentimentality - but it is exactly that fact that stops him. The sentience of the Horcruxes is fact, not girlish imagining. He learned it to his cost when he learned the fate of his diary (damn Lucius for that!) and he learned it again with Nagini. And Bella, of all people, would know what a Horcrux was - and that it was well within his capability and inclinations.
His fingers twitch for a wand, but settle just as quickly. He could Obliviate her and she would just deduce the truth all over again.
"Bellatrix. You're verifiably, clinically insane," he says bluntly. "How on earth can I trust you to keep such knowledge safe?"
"I don't need to be sane not to tell," she says with an air of surprise. "I just need to love. And I know you don't believe in it, but you can't deny it compels people. Even me."
"Of course I believe in it," he snaps irritably. "Did you think I would fail to notice an observable weakness that affects the entire population?"
"I meant you didn't believe in it for yourself," she says complacently, and returns her attention to the snake.
He doesn't really have an answer for that, other than the obvious truism that this is so, and she doesn't seem to require one.
"She's beautiful," she says again, after a moment.
"You already said that."
She looks up at him. "You didn't hear me."
It dawns on him that she means him. That her loving fingers on Nagini's face are for him and what he has become.
That intolerable thing flares up, filling his head with blinding pain. His face closes up and his jaw grows hard and he bites out, "Leave."
She doesn't. She climbs onto the bed and straddles him before he can stop her. Takes his face - his wretched face - between her hands and kisses him, more tenderly than she's ever kissed him. He grasps her by the wrists and wrenches them hard behind her back to stop her, but the move keeps his hands as occupied as hers, so there's nothing left to stop her when she keeps leaning forward to kiss him without them.
"You don't have to love me," she says softly. "I've never asked and I never will. But let me love you."
It is something only a wife could say without leave, and for all practical purposes, that's what she is. So he allows it, gritting his teeth at first, then weakening. He always does. He is disciplined, yes, but not made of stone, and she is a woman and she adores him. It was a heady combination before, and more so now.
"Let me," she says again, tugging on her hands, and he lets her. Closes his eyes as her palms come to rest on his ruined face. Feels warring fury and pleasure as she strokes him there.
"Enough!" he snaps at last.
She lifts her hands off him instantly, sensing as always when she has pushed him to his limit. Pulls back and sits there, straddling his hips, and waits. Expression grave.
Tentatively, he puts his hand on her décolleté. Traces it down over the cream-coloured silk of her robe to rest between her breasts. "Enough," he says again, but it is a whisper.
His fingers find the overlapping edges of her robe and part them, and his hands fall on skin stretched over bone where once there had been curves. He feels fury rising once more. It is an insult to him, what they have done to her, stealing her mind and half her body too, and they will pay.
"I'll kill them for this," he says in a low voice, looking her square in the eye. "I'll kill them all. I'll kill everyone who's ever set foot in that place."
"I know," she whispers, smiling a sad sort of smile, and leans in to kiss him once more, drawing her body up against him and pushing clothes away. He grasps her robe at the back of her neck and wrenches it down off her. Wrenches her down onto him, shoving up into her fiercely with his teeth bared like he can fuck it all better, fuck away her melancholy and her madness and the hollows of her hips beneath his hands if he can just fuck her hard enough. Like he can fuck the pieces of her back together. The pieces of them both.
"They'll pay," he hisses as their foreheads rest together, and she takes it for words of love, chin trembling and her mouth urgently feeding on his.
He started too fast and finishes the same way, but she doesn't complain. She never does. Just nestles into his lap and takes care of herself, choking out fragments of all the endearments she has for him in lieu of the names he won't let her speak. It is his seed that she uses to do it and him that she kisses while she does it. Him that she braces against, hand on his shoulder as she crests and falls. He doesn't hold her, but he lets her hold him, and to her, it seems, one is as good as the other. It always was.
She may be broken, but she isn't lost.
Not to him.
"I know why you did it."
Bella says this some days later, in her first completely lucid moment since. He has become accustomed to conversations that carry over from one clear moment to another, as though there had been no interruption in between.
"Know why I did what?" he wonders absently. They are sitting in the great dining room of Malfoy Manor, after the others have gone. His soldiers are gathering intelligence about the prophecy that led to his last, near-fatal encounter with the wretched Potter boy, and things are moving into high gear. This particular meeting had gone well into the night.
But now, they are alone, and the fire is low. He likes it better that way. In this light, she looks like a fragile little wraith, and somehow that eases his discontent at what she knows about him, what she could do to him if she were so inclined.
She never will - he knows that. If he doubted it for even a moment he would kill her, but he doesn't. The threat nags at him, though, just on general principles.
But he has already hidden a Horcrux with Lucius, who knew something of its value but not the reason for it, and it had backfired badly. Bella knows of one - two, now; he has hidden another in her vault - and while he will never tell her of them all, he knows she will fight for the two she knows about with every breath in her body.
That, and her fragility - the fact that he could snap her in two like a brittle little twig - they ease that nagging disquiet.
The other thing he likes about the firelight is the way it softens her features, softens the hard angles and hides the teeth that have grown in crooked where once they were straight. It is the same way with him; warm tones overlay his alabaster skin and he can almost believe that he is what he was. That they both are.
"I know why you made them," she says. Her chair is pushed back from the table, angled towards his, and her hand is absent-mindedly laid over his. One shoe hangs off her toes, outlined in the firelight, and she is looking pensively into the fire, not at him.
"Go on," he says. He could care less about her theories about his psyche, but he likes to keep tabs on what she thinks, and more importantly, how she thinks. It is important intelligence in the light of her madness. Should her lucid self show signs of deterioration, he may need to act.
You mean you may need to kill her.
He may need to act.
"You fear death because it takes the people who love you. Or would have loved you. And you fear love because the people who love you can die."
She lets the cryptic statement hang in the air without further elaboration. Not even she can speak directly of his mother without punishment. She learned that decades ago. He has never used the Crucio on her in public - the loss of goodwill would be instant - and it is the only time he has ever done it in private.
But that was a long time ago, he is basking in the illusion of a beauty past, and he's not going to fight with her tonight.
He says only, "You are impertinent, Bella. You always have been."
She shrugs. Idly tracing her fingertips across the back of his hand on the arm of his chair, still staring into the fire. "Everyone likes to be loved. Even if they don't love back."
It grates, that she knows this about him.
"It's why you like to have me with you, isn't it? For all my impertinence and my madness and for all that you wish you didn't."
He pulls his hand away. "Stop this."
She rises unconcernedly and begins to walk away, and it breaks the fragile illusion of what he used to be. He sees the dead white skin of his hand with hers taken away and suddenly feels angry. Angry and cold.
"Bella," he says sharply, then stops. He will not give her the satisfaction of knowing he wants her back.
But she turns back to him, and she doesn't look satisfied. There is a strange look on her face, indecipherable. Almost sad. It lingers just for a second, then evaporates as she returns to him and kneels before him. Tilts her face up towards him, and he leans forward and takes her face hard between his hands, and kisses her, just as hard. Her pulse throbs, firm and alive against his fingers on her neck.
"I'll never leave you," she whispers as he lays her down in the firelight. "Never."
Yes, you will, he thinks. You will die.
He sinks into her warmth in the firelight, with the thought left unsaid.
Potter. That damned Potter.
He had eluded them again, and at the cost of several of his soldiers, too. (Though he took a secret satisfaction in Lucius' imprisonment; while not convenient, it was, in his view, poetic justice that was long overdue).
Bella had taken to her room days before and not come out. Unaccustomed to failure, she had been inconsolable at the loss of the Prophecy, even after it became clear that her only punishment was his disappointment. (And even this was not too great; she had only been backup, designed to distract Longbottom and separate Potter from his friends in the process, and in this she had succeeded. He would never tell her so).
He might have commanded her to pull herself together, but he had deduced, correctly, that his followers would interpret her seclusion as a sign of greater recriminations behind closed doors. It raised their fear and their compliance to fever pitch. That was no bad thing.
Now, he watches her from the threshold that separates his bedroom from hers. She sleeps fitfully; has done ever since Azkaban. But the hitching breaths, aftermath of sobs, are new.
They haven't spoken since the Department of Mysteries.
He hasn't even begun to comprehend what happened there. He'd had Potter within his grasp, mind and body under his control. He'd begun to manipulate them, Potter and Dumbledore both, and had seen the fury, the latent power-hunger in the old man begin to rise up. Dumbledore had been, he believed, only seconds from killing the boy, believing it would kill him, comforting himself with the paper-thin fantasy that he had freed the boy from his suffering in the process.
It would have been oh, so poetic, Dumbledore's human chess piece killed by Dumbledore himself, but something had gone wrong.
End it, Dumbledore, Potter had implored, mindlessly trying to reach his poisonous mentor with his thoughts. Death is nothing to this. And I'll see Sirius again. 
Then emotion had flooded through the boy, terrible, rending grief for his blood traitor godfather. It had seared through him, unbearable. An image had flashed in his mind, stolen from the mind of Mrs Cole long ago, his mother holding him in death, present yet utterly gone. There was blinding pain deep in his head, spots of light in his vision. He had pulled out of the boy, stood over him for just one horrified split-second before he saw the flashes of emerald light and streams of movement from the Floos.
She was weeping, pinned to the floor by the remains of Dumbledore's wretched charmed statue, and beyond her, the Minister for Magic and his staff were standing, staring at them in horror. Fudge looked comical in striped pyjamas under pinstriped robes, but he had been in no mood to appreciate the humour. The thought leapt into his head, fully-formed, and spoke in a low, deadly voice:
They'll kill her.
He was there in two strides, the rubble shifting to free her ahead of him, and he wrenched her up by the arm and Disapparated.
He had brought her back to the Manor, thrust her down on the stone floor, and told her sister roughly to put her to bed. Then he had stormed out, stalking through the grounds, striking out at trees and the creatures of the night. Magical lights had showered over the grounds that night as he lashed out his fury and his aching, aching head. He had returned to his followers keeping vigil in the dining room, trembling as they awaited his retribution.
Since then he has been torn between reliving his horror at the prospect of her death and serious consideration of killing her himself. He is too exposed by her now. He should end it before someone realises it.
He could do it now, he supposes. She's asleep; it would be peaceful. More peaceful than she is likely to get remaining at his side. He could give her that.
He approaches her, and sees that Nagini is curled up with her, and he recognises in the part of himself that lives in her the unpalatable thing that he cannot recognise in himself.
He will never kill her.
All right, he thinks, this at least is a fact. It has parameters. He can work with it.
He thinks it over, standing over her. Thinks coldly and strategically and dispassionately.
The prospect of her death weakens him. Therefore, she must not be allowed to die.
"Bellatrix," he says sharply.
She starts from her light slumber. "Yes," she whispers.
Nagini, he notes with considerable annoyance, slithers protectively around her.
He cups his hands before his mouth and exhales into them, wordlessly casting the charm. He opens his hands to reveal a corked vial.
He hands it to her. Careful not to touch. He will not touch her until it is done.
"Igor Karkaroff is in the North," he says. "Yaxley can tell you where. Take Nagini, and kill him. You must be sure to do it yourself. As he dies, break the vial. My voice will do the rest." He turns from her and strides back to the threshold to his room.
"Do the rest of what?" she wonders as he reaches it.
He doesn't look at her. "Nagini will be your Horcrux too," he says brusquely. "Keep her safe."
He hears her intake of breath, and slams the door before she can say anything more.
She returns, three days later, in triumph.
Nagini precedes her into his bedroom, greeting him with a new and deeper affection, and that is when he knows it is done.
She appears on the threshold moments later.
She stands there, eyes a little wild, backlit by the fire in her bedroom. Her hands are raised, pressed flat to the sides of the doorway, bracing her. She is trembling with exhilaration. Those hands seem to be all that hold her to the ground.
He holds out a hand to her. "Come."
That releases her. She stalks across the room, tearing her clothes open and letting them fall away. She straddles him in long, kneeling strides up the bed, vanishing his own as she presses down hard into his lap. She steals deep, hungry kisses that leave him breathless. Nagini hisses out a sound that echoes his own as he grips her hard against him, tangling his hand deep in her hair. Her pupils are big and dark as he descends on her, kissing her more fervently than he's ever kissed her.
"I'm yours," she chokes out, "I'm always yours," and at last, it is absolute truth.
For the first time, when they're done, he holds her too.
They feel it, him and Bella both, when Nagini falls in the final battle.
The snake is the last of his Horcruxes, and the only of hers. Mother of this hateful body of his, vessel for their strange bond, and only child of this thing they share. And in the end, the snake's false promise of immortality had let him love her.
She is beside him when it happens, the unnoticed consort, and her scream gives voice to his silent one when Nagini's head falls at their feet.
A lifetime compresses into an instant as it all starts to crumble around them.
Avenge me, before the end, she thinks in the silence of his mind. Me and Nagini both.
They will feel the full force of everything they took from us, he thinks. They will feel it a hundredfold. They will pay. 
She slips her hand into his, just for a second before the stampeding hordes part them, and then they charge into battle for the final time.
END OF BIOPHILIA
 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Ch. 36.
 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ch. 36: "Voldemort screamed...[and his] fury at the fall of his last, best lieutenant exploded with the force of a bomb..."