Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Summary: It has always been her gift, to peer into the darkness and see the beauty there. Bella's descent into madness.
Word Count: Approx 2800
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
Her first night home from Azkaban is the lull before the storm.
He knows it the next day, when she wakes to thunder and rain, and she thrusts the bedcovers aside and bolts for the window. Stands there, bracing hands against the windowframe, and screams peals of demented laughter. Opens the latch and stretches out her hands, wide open to raindrops. "Please," she cries out, not in anguish, but desire, breasts arched forward, head fallen back. Her spine is arched, mimicking how she stretches out beneath his hands.
He rises, slowly, evenly, but more from self-discipline than calm. Shrugs on his robe, and bends to lift hers from where it is puddled on the floor. He moves to her side. Places it around her shoulders.
The naked longing in her features when she turns to look at him is like a bolt of lightning. It has a different tenor to her normal ardour. Her gaze is streaked with desperation. Like hanging on to a lifeline.
Her mouth is on him. Demanding. Furious.
She has never demanded before. She is a submissive lover. She longs to be owned, surrenders to it gratefully. Even when she takes the lead, it is to draw him up to meet her, and then she yields with a sigh.
But now she's grasping at him. She's wrapping her legs around him, clenching with all her strength. She's climbing him like a fucking tree, damn it, and it isn't quite her but it's hot as hell anyway.
He groans out her name as he's never groaned it before.
It's rather like being manhandled by a particularly rough and grinding machine, but he doesn't mind. He hadn't completely let go with her the night before - he'd been wary of his new body, unsure of its cooperation - and the way she rides him hard and milks him dry exorcises all his hateful fears.
But after she settles into a fitful sleep, he settles beside her, studying her thoughtfully. This new development worries him.
Unpredictability worries him at the best of times, and an unpredictable Bellatrix is a more worrying prospect again. For all their peaceable co-existence down the years, political expedience turned to a rather odd kind of mutual enjoyment, he has never forgotten that she is a wild thing, a predator. She has put her gifts to good use for the Cause, and has surrendered to him out of devotion, but he is under no illusions. She is a strong witch, fundamentally ungovernable. Were she unwilling to be governed by him, he would not even try. He would simply kill her. He has, he thinks, a healthy respect for her nature.
The idea that she is no longer fully governed by herself...
"Please," she whispers. Hands flexing and clutching at the sheets.
Thoughtfully, he slips into her mind. Wonders what chaotic thing he will see there.
To his surprise, what he sees is not chaotic at all. It is a memory, complete, undistorted. It has a certain gleaming light to it, though the setting is dark. It is a memory she holds with some warmth.
She is in Azkaban, sitting by the window. Staring at the Dementors, flying outside. There is softness around her eyes. Her gaze is drawn longingly at the dark void of their form.
It has always been her gift, he thinks, to peer into the darkness and see the beauty there.
"My love," she whispers. "My Lord. Please come. Please."
The Dementors draw near – when had they ever resisted such a beseeching victim? - but then they pause. She is reaching out, hands outstretched in the rain, begging to be drawn into their darkness. Not begging for death - many beg for that - but begging to be consumed. She sees something of him in them - understands what they are - and she longs for it anyway.
It is her understanding that makes them pause. They see something like them in her, and it draws them, but they resist her as well. They see her love for what they offer, freely given, and it is something they do not know how to accept. They are poised, neither approaching nor pulling away.
The tension he perceives in them is unsettlingly familiar.
"Please," she whispers in her memory. Hugging herself against the window. It seems to dawn on her that they will be companions to her, but not draw her close.
It is this realisation that breaks her. She crumples. Doubles over, choking out her grief.
He withdraws from her mind.
"Please," she whispers again, tugging the sheets tighter around her. Her voice is streaked with desolation.
Alarmingly, he feels something soften within him. He doesn't know if it's the power of her memory, or just his suspicion that normal Bella will never remember these moments. (He is already sure there will be more).
Whatever it is, it strikes him hard in the chest, and he hates it. If it were anyone but Bella, he would kill her on the spot just to make it go away.
But her devotion is a pleasing thing to him, and no-one else's is quite like it. It is honest. Utterly without self-interest. Utterly unconditional.
For that, he will tolerate a lot.
He is no white knight, and she has never wanted one. But right now, she longs for a dark one, and it occurs to him that he could give her that.
With reluctant tenderness, he reaches out. Strokes back that wild hair. "Bella," he murmurs. "Be still."
With a hitching breath, she stills.
Moving slowly, he covers her body with his. Drapes his torso over her back. Rests his brow in her hair. He doesn't take her hand, but he lays his on the back of hers, and she clenches her fingers, curling her knuckles hard up around his. This is the thing she loves most, to be pressed beneath him, firm but not hard into bedding, every part of her covered by him. Whether she drowns in his eyes or drowns in the darkness of pillows matters less than the drowning itself, the undertow of losing herself in him. It arouses her and satisfies her, but more than anything, it soothes the fires of her brilliant, burning mind.
Perhaps it will soothe her now.
"My love," she whispers. Shifts further beneath him. Opening for him. "Please-"
He takes it slow this time, setting a lazy, languid pace. Filling her fully, and resting there inside her before doing it again. Soothing her with movements that are slow-rolling and rhythmic and calm. She is not asleep, but not really awake either. More like a highly suggestible state in between.
"I was always there," he murmurs deep in her ear as she lazily rises towards her climax, and it isn't entirely a lie. During his years of exile, he had missed her. Rather more than he liked to admit.
"I know," she sighs, and a flash comes to him - just a flash - of her hand outstretched beseechingly in the rain.
"Not only like that," he says, sliding into her mind. Inserts himself into her memory. Drops down beside her grieving form. Draws her close. Makes love to her as he has never made love to her in life.
It is a carefully calculated lie, but it is a gentle one.
He has used his powers to heal before. Rarely, and only for a practical use, but he has done it. This is different. He wants her to be well to serve his purposes, yes, but he also just wants her to be well. She is a glorious thing, Pure and proud and single-minded and adoring and ruthless and strong, everything that is perfect about their kind, and he wants her that way again.
When she comes, in her counterfeit memory and in life as well, it is with a wrenching sob of relief.
When, at last, he settles alongside her and she opens her eyes, they are calm and sane. Her gaze is watchful. He wonders how much she remembers, how much she knows of what he has done to her mind.
"I love you," she says in a low voice, not quite looking at him, and he thinks she remembers it all.
She rarely says it directly like that, though it is a continual undercurrent, rolling along on the riverbed of her mind. She speaks of it in the passive sometimes, very matter-of-factly, as an element in an equation, but no more than that. He wouldn't like it if she did.
But this time he finds it tolerable. Her...her illness, he supposes, is a vacuum where the normal rules don't seem to apply. That, and that it is an offering, not a demand. She has never asked for his love in return.
He detaches himself from her gently. Rises.
"Get some rest, Bella," he murmurs, and he dresses and leaves her there.
Not all of her demons are so easily soothed, of course.
Some are exaggerated reactions to entirely rational triggers, but many have no obvious cause at all. Nor does he have the patience or inclination to figure them all out. The more poignant ones make his heart rather unpleasantly twist, but just as many aggravate him and make him sharp and irritable with her. He doesn't try too hard to rein his annoyance in.
It isn't clear to him just how much she knows of her illness at first. Traversing her mind is like traversing the mind of the dying, memories divided by half-formed veils. He can see it all, but he doesn't know how much she can see at any moment in time.
For the first time in all their years together, he is never quite able to grasp the full picture of what she is thinking. She has become an ethereal sort of enigma, dark angel to his dark knight, still her enough to be his, but standing across grey, rolling mists from him as well.
Is this how his followers love, he wonders? Lucius and Narcissa, for instance? How can they love when they don't even really know each other at all? When all they know is what the other perceives well enough about themselves to reveal? He may not choose to love personally, but he has more insight into the emotion than they give him credit for, gleaned from thousands of minds over decades. But this aspect eludes his understanding entirely.
She may not know it all, but she knows enough to comprehend the nature of her illness, and to grieve for the person she once was. Melancholy seeps through her voice in her lucid moments. She trails it through her fingers along the surfaces of the house; he can see it as he sees it on the surface of her mind. It is a new undercurrent in her mind, dark twin to her ever-present love for him.
He hates that melancholy, even more than he hates her illness.
He finds himself making concessions on self-imposed boundaries set long ago. Their relationship, as a political reality, is public, but he has never treated her differently before. In business settings, he still doesn't, but in more casual situations he finds himself bending.
It is a matter of practicality. If he sees her madness beginning to rise up, sometimes - not all the time, but sometimes - he can halt it with a hand on her shoulder and a carefully-pitched utterance of her name. And he is keen to hide the full extent of her illness from his followers. If they were to see her as dangerously demented, that would be harmless, and maybe even to his advantage. But if they knew of her vulnerability, the depths of the rending of her mind...
It is Lucius who voices it. He, Narcissa, and Rodolphus all know the truth, but only Lucius is foolish enough to raise it. Narcissa has more brains than half his followers put together, and Rodolphus is Bella's self-imposed protector. His guilt regarding their wreck of a marriage has been useful.
It begins with Pennyroyal, sitting in a labelled vial casually besides Narcissa's plate at breakfast. She has always suffered women's problems. Presumably, that is why she and Lucius took so long to produce an heir.
Bella's gaze falls on the vial, and she freezes. The Aurors had force-fed it to her in prison, lest she bear his child. He sees the horror seeping into her brain even before it takes hold. Narcissa, who knows the story (this part of it, at least), sees his reaction first, then follows his line of sight to Bella and Bella's to the vial.
"Take her to her bedchamber," he says. "Now."
"Yes, my Lord," Narcissa says at once, grasping the urgency, and hurriedly brings Bella to her feet. Her breaths are coming, shivering and fast as she is led away.
He is left alone with Lucius, and he knows Lucius will raise it before Lucius himself does.
"My Lord," Lucius says cautiously, his gaze on the doorway through which the women have just left, "you have always said that the defective should be humanely put out of their misery."
"And so they should," he says evenly. "There is no place for those who cannot pay their way in this world. A place in society is earned by contribution, not given at the expense of all."
He sees the line of Lucius' jaw harden. Clearly preparing for his wrath (and probably his wife's as well). "My Lord, Bellatrix-"
"Is not defective," he bites out. "She is a casualty of war, a martyr to our values and the vile hypocrites who claim to stand for tolerance. And she has already earned her place."
Lucius' courage is rapidly failing him, but he tries once more. "My Lord, I know you - I mean, I'm sure you care for her-"
His single, arched eyebrow and the tightening of his fingers around his glass are calculated. He knows they are more intimidating than any word he could utter.
Lucius takes a gulp of his drink, cupped in two slightly-shaking hands. "I mean, yes, my Lord."
"She is your sister, in law and in the fight," he says severely. "You will guard her from harm, and from the plotting and gossip of others too. I will know if you do not."
Lucius is too rattled to reply, but his convulsively nodding head is answer enough.
"I'm mad, aren't I?"
She says this from her stance at the window when he crosses the threshold into her room.
It isn't really a question.
Other than to soothe her demons, he has never lied to her. It isn't that he won't. It's just that there has never been a need.
"Yes," he says, approaching her from behind. Their reflections are faint against the rolling grey mist of morning.
"Are you going to send me away?"
He shakes his head. "No."
She turns to look at him. Shock written into her features. "Why?"
It dawns on him, with crawling dread, that he doesn't actually know. His stated beliefs on the subject to Lucius were truth, but he also knows, deep down, that if it were anyone else he would have retired them harmlessly to a pleasant, safely-confined rural estate, where they could do no harm.
Keeping her at his side is dangerous. Letting her go is unthinkable.
"You need me," he says after a moment, and that is a lie. For all her fragility, she does not need him to survive, and it wouldn't matter to him if she did.
Her eyes narrow, just a momentary flicker as she evaluates his words, but then she seemingly decides to let it pass.
"You love me," he corrects after a moment.
"Yes," she says. "And you love that I love you."
He looks away. "I suppose I do."
It is an accord, but it feels strangely like an impasse.
Finally, she whispers, "So what now?"
His gaze flickers back up to meet hers, standing there in her cream-coloured robe against a backdrop of grey. Shimmering warmth against lashing cold.
He has no answer. He's never really had an answer with her. There is nothing to work to here, no expectations, no rules. Nothing to perceive and manipulate to his own ends. All she has ever wanted is him, whatever he is, and she's the only one who's ever cared to wonder at all.
As always, when he doesn't have an answer with her, he gives her the only answer that really matters between them. The drowning. The undertow. Pulling her lovingly into his darkness.
There are veils and mists between them, he thinks as his lips settle onto hers, but in the darkness, they find each other anyway.
Biophilia: Biophilia means literally the love of life and living systems. The word refers here to Voldemort's inability to love things he associates with death. There is a secondary meaning, related to his ability to bond with Nagini, because in practice the word is used to refer to theories about the urge to bond with other life forms (eg animals).
This story is largely derived from other people's meta. It draws heavily on this editorial on MuggleNet, which questions the assumption that Voldemort cannot love, pointing out that this is only Dumbledore's theory. As much as I love the world she wrote for us, I am extremely happy to disregard JKR's comments about his conception under coercion compromising his ability to love, which I find ignorant and offensive to the many perfectly good, loving, and loved people conceived under rape, impaired consent, prostitution, and other exploitative or adverse circumstances.
Many of the psychological elements are derived from that editorial, as well as the plot point that Bella knew of the Horcruxes, for which the author makes an excellent argument. The editorial argued that Voldemort's interactions with the ideas of love and death are real and complicated and tied to unresolved grief about his mother's death. (There was no way to explain this from Voldemort's own point of view, but I specifically intended his blinding pain when this subject arises to be stress headaches related to his unresolved trauma, and not Dumbledore's IMO ludicrous theory about love, of itself, being Voldemort's Kryptonite). I wondered whether this might be exacerbated by his magical abilities, and, possibly, an ability to see images of his mother's death in the minds of his caregivers at a young age.
The plot point that even a Voldemort who couldn't love (prior to the making of Bella's Horcrux), would appreciate a fanatically devoted lover on the basis of ego alone, came from a subsequent discussion with Gamma_Orionis.
The plot point about Voldemort's disfigurement being a turning point in the relationship was a combination of two things. Firstly, the MuggleNet editorial, which talked about the importance of Bellatrix's unconditional love, persevering in the face of Voldemort's physical ugliness and his harshness. And secondly, of all things, a comedic ad for the Harry Potter Lego PS3 game on the Blu Ray edition of Deathly Hallows 2. In it, Lego!Voldemort is growling at his battered reflection in the mirror, then starts pulling funny faces and trying on wigs, before being sprung by an amused Lego!Bellatrix. Inspiration comes from the strangest places, no?
Chameleon: Parts of this draw on the story and surrounding legends of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles (now the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall). During Charles' more-or-less arranged marriage to Princess Diana, he and Camilla maintained a long-term affair, under the sympathetic protection of the aristocracy, who reportedly attended house parties hosted by them and treated her as his wife. This reportedly included Camilla's husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, who himself had a mistress and who would eventually be a guest at their wedding. This Bella draws on both Princess Diana, the unwitting and unwanted wife, and also Camilla, the mistress accepted as wife, while Rodolphus draws on Andrew.
I would not call the Voldemort of the Biophilia universe sociopathic, strictly, since his inability to love is post-traumatic and self-protective rather than an intrinsic feature of his personality. However, this characterisation draws heavily on the sociopathic ability to identify the traits admired or attractive to a target, and then emulate them, in order to gain their love or allegiance.
Not Loveless: One of the things I love about writing the Biophilia universe is its contradictions. Voldemort can genuinely care for Bellatrix (in his emotionally limited way) on one hand, yet let her languish in hell for six months on the other. Bella can be profoundly selfless and loving on one hand (and we see this in her love for him in canon) and yet be vicious and heartless on the other. I've also wanted to explore the strength and the self-reliance that she must have to coexist with his emotional inaccessibility for so many years, and the ways she must have rationalised her situation (and how this must look to her family). And I've longed to see the moment where she sees his new form for the first time, and what that does to them both.
I debated about the plot point regarding the assaults on Bella in prison due to her position as Voldemort's companion. It was not strictly necessary for the story. I included it, in the end, because I could not imagine the Aurors would not be aware of this piece of intelligence that was common knowledge in the aristocracy, and I could not believe that she would not be abused for it. I think the treatment of Clara Petacci, the mistress of Mussolini, was particularly front-of-mind when considering this. The wives and mistresses of defeated men in war are rarely treated well, although we are starting to see changes in this in very modern times. Bin Laden's wives appear to have been treated decently, and Kim Kyonghui, wife of executed Jang Songthaek and aunt of North Korea's Kim Jong Un, has recently surfaced in the North Korean leadership.
For this one I had Sophie B. Hawkins' I Need Nothing Else very much on my mind. It's an anthem to the push-pull of a contradictory, overpowering relationship, with lines like, Your words may sting / you make me sing / I want to bring you everything. I've always loved the song (it's almost twenty years old) but never matched it mentally to a couple before, but I think it might be Bellamort to a "T".
A note about wording: I used the terminology "her Lord" rather than "the Dark Lord" here. Since this is the first established-relationship story from Bella's point of view, I struggled to think of what sort of descriptors she would use for him in the privacy of her own mind. Something intimate yet suitably respectful - he tolerates her intimacy, but is still very sensitive to names. In Biophilia, it's noted that she uses endearments in lieu of names in bed, but these are probably things like "my love" and "my darling" and probably don't work when thinking of him in the third person. The third person possessive version of "my Lord" seemed to do the trick. Having said which, I don't think it's that much of a conceptual leap, though - I can't say that I often think or say my husband's name at all. He's a constant presence in my life that doesn't actually need naming, if that makes sense, and when I speak to him, he's "darling." On the odd occasions that I need to say his name (say, to call out to him in a crowd), it actually feels rather strange.
Dark Knight: Pennyroyal was used for centuries as a herbal means of inducing abortion, as well as for more general gynaecological issues such as cramps and irregular menstrual periods.
Narcissa would have been twenty-four when she had Draco, which seems rather old for a dutiful Pureblood wife of her era. Lily and James married at eighteen, and Frank and Alice don't seem to have been much older - early marriage seems to be the norm in that society, as indeed it was in Muggle society in the 1970s. So I've theorised that Lucius and Narcissa either struggled with fertility, or tried to hold off until after the war (perhaps claiming fertility problems).