Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Summary: The Dark Lord does not ask for advice. He enters minds and takes the knowledge he needs by stealth. It is how he assimilated into a foreign world. Part of the Biophilia universe, but can be read on its own.
Word Count: Approx 3400
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
"The Dark Lord wishes to court you."
It is her husband who says this, of all people, eighteen months into their wreck of a marriage. Bellatrix arches an eyebrow of supreme surprise.
"He is aware of our...domestic circumstances," Rodolphus clarifies. "He would not ask otherwise."
"I'm sure," she agrees. "But I'm not marriageable." She does not believe that Rodolphus will release her from their union, even for the Dark Lord. He clings to it, protection and respectability for his forbidden desires, the young men to which she turns a blind eye.
"I don't believe he wants marriage. He's married to the Cause. But he would like the company of a good woman. His advisers have been telling him to seek one for a long time. It seems he has finally seen sense."
She suppresses a rather grim smile at that. Even Rodolphus believes in the value of a good woman. She isn't all that good, and he doesn't want one, but societal mores die hard.
But the Dark Lord does not embrace social mores, except to the extent that they serve the Cause. Which raises the fascinating question of what he wants with her.
She can make a reasonable guess, she supposes. She has, after all, greater access than most of her peers. Her amicable, but loveless marriage has emancipated her, after a fashion. With her husband's support, she was allowed to take the Mark, allowed to fight, something normally allowed only to widows and spinsters. It was an early effort on Rodolphus' part at making amends.
So she has heard the whispers of the men, the Dark Lord's boyhood friends who have taken wives and children, and are now as suspicious of his solitary nature as once they admired it. Once he was a bachelor among bachelors, but now he is an outsider. He is a half-blooded orphan, embraced by the peerage on the basis of his exceptional powers and his ability to integrate, and now, that acceptance is in danger. Even his second generation of soldiers are beginning to marry, even those with other inclinations such as Rodolphus, and he is being left behind.
Perhaps, then, if he is not inclined to the full set of requirements of married life, a woman such as her would be a means to an end. Her situation is known among the inner circle of aristocracy, dirty linen sheltered from the wider public. He could take her as a mistress without scandal. They would be viewed with sympathy, accepted as married without benefit of ceremony. He would earn respect and acceptance for his participation in the protection of Rodolphus.
The only question that remains is whether she is willing to be courted for the purpose.
There is a heady kind of attraction about him, of course. An irresistible combination of power, good looks, intelligence, and charisma. He has effortlessly charmed generations of men and women into doing his will. She has felt it herself, to the detached extent that she ever allows herself to feel such things. Such feelings are not helpful when one is married to a man who refuses to share one's bed.
And what else is there for her, anyway? Endless years waiting in endless drawing rooms as Rodolphus takes his pleasure? There might be another unconventional suitor down the track for her, but there might not. And there is no guarantee that Rodolphus will give his blessing for anyone else. He has been as decent as he can be in the situation in which they have found themselves, honest with her as soon as it became clear that he was unable to be a husband to her, but no man of his breeding would easily agree to share his wife. Even if he didn't want her himself.
Rodolphus is waiting. Watching her think it over.
"Very well," she says at last. "He may call on me. You'll make the arrangements?"
Rodolphus nods. "I will." Then, hesitantly, he adds, "I do want you to be happy, you know."
"The Dark Lord wishes me to spend my life with him."
She says this two months into their courtship, which has been conducted entirely according to the rules of their world, with the exception that permission and chaperone duties have been provided by her husband and not her father. As with all such courtships, she has reached this moment with little knowledge of her intended as a person.
Her father grimaces a little. She has been careful to avoid the word mistress, and their courtship has been accepted by their peers in view of all the circumstances, but it is still not quite seemly enough for his tastes. Left up to him, she would waste away as a discarded wife for the rest of her life. She is not willing to do that.
"Before I consent," she goes on, ignoring the grimace, "I need to know who he is. I need to know why he's...why he's the way he is." She does not need to elaborate; Narcissa has voiced the obvious at the dinner table more than once. The Dark Lord, for all his charisma, does not seem like the type to be a loving companion to anyone.
"I know you know," she goes on. "You were boys together. You were his friend."
"As much as any of us were, I suppose," her father concedes. He is sitting in his big armchair near the hearth, and now his gaze drifts to the fire. "But I really can't tell you."
Undeterred, she says, "You can. You must."
"There's really nothing I can tell you." He points his wand into the fire and shifts the burning cuts of wood, watching as the flames spring up higher and warmer. "The subject is closed, Bellatrix."
Anger flares in her. "You knew what Rodolphus was when you married me to him, didn't you?" she demands. "You owe me this!"
His gaze darts to hers, then away again. He sits back into his chair, a little morosely. "I thought he'd settle down. Grow out of it. Most do."
"Or just get better at hiding it," she snaps. Says again, "You owe me this."
Her father's brow furrows a little, but then he rises. Thoughtfully, he draws his wand and places it carefully on the mantel. Then, more casually, he crosses the room to the window. She watches him in confusion.
"Anything of value had a tongue-tying curse placed upon it long ago," he says slowly, his back turned. "You will only get it from me by force."
She walks towards him, slowly, as understanding dawns. "You mean -"
Her father only bows his head. It is acquiescence enough.
Tentatively, she places a hand on his shoulder. Leans in and says gently behind his ear, "Legilimens."
She searches his mind, bypassing one memory after another. From the corner of her eye she sees long-forgotten boyhood fumblings with Abraxas Malfoy and another boy she does not recognise. Understands suddenly why he had been so criminally complacent about Rodolphus.
But Rodolphus is no longer her concern. He is her past. The Dark Lord is her future.
She finds him in the Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom. It is empty of all but him and her father. They are cleaning desks by hand; detention, by the looks. The Dark Lord - Tom, in her father's mind - he opens a cupboard, poised to put cleaning supplies away.
She sees the void of the boggart as it peers into Tom's mind, identifying his fears. Sees the void turn inside out, revealing a haggard young woman on a little bed, eyes open and dead, propped up on pillows, a baby cradled in her protective yet lifeless arms.
The colour falls from Tom's face, but he points his wand with the same fearlessness in the face of the enemy as he does now. Shouts, "Riddikulus!"
The boggart remains unchanged.
"Riddikulus!" he says again. "Change, damn you!" Shoots a look at Cygnus, then darts into his mind, in search of something. Anything.
"Riddikulus!" he says desperately, for the third time.
This time the dead woman stirs, and says, "It's no good, Tom. Death is coming for you, as it does for everyone. You and everyone who loves you included. It's the way of the world."
"Like hell," he says through gritted teeth, and this time he doesn't bother with the Riddikulus. Just sends a wordless blast of Reducto and the whole thing is destroyed, boggart and cupboard both.
"Tom," her father says tentatively, but Tom's whiplash glare silences him. His tongue-tying curse silences him on the subject forever.
Bella has seen enough; she moves on.
Another memory. Dinner with Grandmother and Grandfather Black. Tom has followed the rules of their world, and been greeted in the cautiously reserved way that one greets one's inferiors - polite, but ready to cut at the first infraction. But they are loosening up now, charmed by his intelligence and his sparkling conversation. Grandmother has even unbent enough to whisper approval in Cygnus' ear.
Dinner is served, and she sees him falter. Just a fraction of a second. Unnoticed by either adult. Feels him slide into her father's mind, searching quickly for the moment where he learned to do this. Cygnus, apparently accustomed to this by now, guides him to the moment of his Elfnanny's approval, clapping hands signifying that he has gotten it exactly right.
Confidently, Tom lifts his knife and fork, and goes on with the meal.
She stays there, watching a while, but she has seen what she needed to see. Reluctantly, she slides out of her father's mind.
He is still looking out the window, and she kisses his temple. It is the first time she has kissed him since her disastrous, unsuccessful wedding night.
"Bellatrix," he says awkwardly as she pulls away, "I really am sorry."
"I know," she says, curt but soft, and she does.
Unbending a little, he says, "I hope you can find a way to be happy with him."
"But you wouldn't have chosen him for me. Would you?"
That grimace is back. "No. I wouldn't."
Perhaps she wouldn't either, in an ideal world, but he is her only option, besides what she has now. And what she has now is intolerable.
"Well. I don't have a lot of options. And he has a vested interest in keeping me happy. They won't forgive him if he doesn't."
"I suppose that's true," her father says morosely.
There is nothing more to say, so they leave it at that.
Their joining is announced, discreetly and without fanfare, as you would announce a private wedding at a time of family mourning.
Rodolphus makes the announcement at a small gathering of friends. Madam Lestrange and the Dark Lord have agreed to spend their lives together. Neither his marriage to her, nor their absence of one is mentioned; neither is the word mistress. It is all very euphemistic and tactful, and received with equal diplomacy. It is celebrated with subdued toasts, kind words about the protection of their privacy from an outside world too primitive to understand. The unspoken message is clear: their pseudo-marriage is accepted, and they will be sheltered and defended. It is a politically and socially delicate exercise, but it is successful.
She will continue to keep rooms at the Lestrange estate, and they will continue to entertain there. She will meet outsiders there, corset-makers and milliners and the directors of charities. But she will also live with him, in rooms adjoining his. She has lived an emancipated life for nearly two years; the independence of the arrangement suits her as much as it suits him.
So she is prepared for what it is to be his mistress.
She is not prepared for what it is to be his lover.
It's an acceptable first time, as first times go, and halfway through she realises why.
It nags at her at first. There is a familiarity about what he does and how he does it, and she can't put her finger on why.
It's the way he uses his hands that gives it away. The way he starts slowly with them, opening her until finally she can accommodate him. It isn't an uncommon technique among the more considerate husbands. (Men would die if they knew what women talked about over their pastel high teas, she's certain of it).
But beginning with his ring finger is a special detail - one that could only have come from her brother-in-law. She had been stunned when Narcissa had confided that arrogant, boorish Lucius had taken the trouble to learn that this finger was the weakest, and therefore the gentlest for the purpose.
There is no question in her mind how he came by the knowledge. The Dark Lord does not ask for advice. He enters minds and takes the knowledge he needs by stealth. It is how he assimilated into a foreign world. He learned of her virginity from Rodolphus, then the accepted means of addressing the problem from Lucius.
It touches her that he has been careful with her. It troubles her that he is acting out Lucius' script.
The earth does not move, for him or for her, but they consummate their union with only very minimal discomfort, and even some mild stirrings of enjoyment on her part. She can see a glimmer - just a glimmer - of the sly mischief, the secret knowing among the luckier women. Knowledge she had regarded with rather detached envy.
He did not join with her for this, she knows, and there is no intention of children on either side. They are acting out a social norm for lack of any other rules more suited to their situation.
But Rodolphus hurt her, for all that he never meant to, and she cannot live with another rejection. Necessity will keep the Dark Lord bound to her, but not as her lover. Only she can do that.
She thinks all this as he drapes his arm around her afterwards. He does it awkwardly. The script is failing him, she thinks, and if she doesn't break him free of it, she will lose him.
Casually, she sits up, breaking his stiff embrace. Turns to face him, drawing her knees up to her chest. Strokes down his stomach with idle fingertips. Observes the way muscles stiffen, unaccustomed to tender touch, then let go again.
It is the letting go that gives her hope. Rodolphus could not.
"Thank you," she says softly.
"For what?" he asks brusquely.
She gathers her courage. "For finding out what was required."
His eyes widen, just a fraction, and she feels the slide of him into her mind, in and out just as quickly. His mouth forms a grim line.
"Damn Cygnus," he mutters, and she reaches out, stroking back his hair with soothing fingers. He watches her warily, but doesn't pull away.
"You don't have to do it like Lucius," she goes on, undeterred. "You can do it how you like it."
The look that enters his eyes, alarmed and confused, tells her instantly that he doesn't know how he likes it. That like the rest of his life, whatever he has done before has been a role, assumed as a means to an end. He stiffens, and she knows then that she has only the briefest second left before he shuts down, before she loses him.
"I know what you like," she offers quickly.
Those muscles in his stomach loosen again, just a little. "Go on," he says with a rather thin sound of amusement.
She allows herself just the briefest moment of relief. It dawns on her that this union will be a series of these careful moments, tiny victories that keep him with her, keep him himself with her.
"You like to own. You like to possess. You like a thing to be yours, forever. So it can never be taken away."
His jaw hardens into a line. "Damn Cygnus."
She straddles him, bold move propelled by the knowledge that this is her only chance. It is all or nothing. She cradles his face between her palms. Kisses him fiercely.
"I'm yours," she whispers. "So own me. Take what's yours."
She has no idea what he will do, whether it will be pleasurable or perverse, but it will be him, it will be skin against skin, and it is this that she cannot endure another union without.
As though unleashed by her words, his hand is instantly in her hair, pulling her into a crushing kiss. His free hand is on her back, not just his hand but his whole forearm, pressing her, pressing her. Her breasts are hard against his chest but he seems not to notice, all his focus on engulfing her as deeply as he can.
It takes her breath away, takes every carefully calculating thought about him and drives it all from her mind. Before, she was trying to draw him out; now she wants only to draw him in. Wants him to consume her as he wants to consume. The hunger she has carefully protected and silenced spills over. All she wants is to join, and he wants to join with her. The realisation fills her with gratitude; it floods her mind and her body, bringing desire and warmth and rushing fluid with it.
He rolls her over, onto her back, and holds her down, covering her with his body. Filling her space, her mind, her world, every inch of her against him. His eyes blaze hunger into hers, the greedy hunger of a child. Unrestrained by strictures and by shoulds. His hips grind into hers, hardness parting softness, sliding over the most tender part of her there until she bears down, all agonising need, wanting him inside her like she's never wanted anything. She'd never dreamed she could want anything so badly.
"Mine," he hisses, all fury and hunger, and plunges into her as far as he can go, making her rasp out a harsh, satisfied sound. He keeps doing that until the rasps subside, until she's come so hard and so much that there's nothing left but to let the pleasure wash over her. She is limp, unable to move of her own volition, but keeps on drinking in his fierce, hard kisses, taking him with her mouth and her core with gratitude and relief. His ability to take her this way seems endless, and nor does she want it to end. She belongs, she's wanted, at last, at last.
When, finally, it ends, he falls away from her, laying on the bed beside her. She gropes for his hand and holds him there, overcome with it all, fighting down idiotic tears, belated grief for what she has lost and what she has found.
His hand is unresponsive in hers, but he doesn't pull away. He's still hers.
They think she loved him first and became his mistress because of it. The truth of it is, she became his mistress because it was sensible, and fell in love with him, deeply, irrevocably, in the course of it.
She never expected to love him, any more than she expected him to love her. At best, she had hoped for companionship and the physical affection her husband could not give her. Even her efforts to reach the man inside him had only ever been a means to that end.
She had reckoned without the power of what she had found.
So now she watches him with adoring eyes that bemuse even herself, in her quieter moments. She never knew she had such a thing within her. It isn't selflessness, but something deeper still, a self-forgetting that exhilarates and frees her.
In her self-forgetting, she has stripped away his default behaviour, to be exactly what she needs, because she needs only to be with him. In so doing, she has become what he needs. Someone who will love what he is and not who he portrays.
She does. She loves it all. The flawed, hungry child, who became a flawed, hungry man. The man who craves, who devours. His wanting is greedy and relentless, taking the barren plains of her marriage and consuming them with fire. He burns her with his endless, endless need. He heals her, in each searing, scorching moment. Each kiss. Each unyielding embrace.
He overwhelms her. Possesses her. Completely.
She has never felt so free in her life.
END OF CHAMELEON