Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Economy of Submission
Deslea R. Judd
Pairing: Bellatrix Lestrange/Voldemort
Summary: He doesn't understand lovers, but he understands submission and he understands exchange. He understands Bella.
Word Count: 1100
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
Notes: Inspired by, and possibly in the same universe as two of my other works, the fic The Art Of Perfect Surrender, and the artwork I Knew You'd Come. However, the story stands alone.
His followers are whispering.
They want to know why he hasn't freed the Lestranges yet. They'd thought that would be his very first act.
For some, the question is one of merit. The Lestranges sought him and proclaimed him openly at a time when everyone else was ducking for cover, claiming the Imperius and coercion and all sorts of things. His followers are grateful to have avoided punishment for their abandonment - in truth, if he had punished them as they deserved, he would have no followers left - but they understand that the Lestranges are their betters. In every possible way.
For some, it is a question of strategy. The Lestranges are key assets, in both their commitment and their skills. Already, comment has been made that this exercise or that would be so much easier if Rod and Bella were here.
For some, it is a question of manners. Bellatrix had been his mistress. Rodolphus had turned a blind eye. Regardless of whether he felt anything for her at all, there is a give-and-take that accompanies such arrangements. The rules of aristocratic chivalry require that both husband and wife's welfare be considered.
A handful believe that he genuinely cares for Bella, and they are the most baffled of all. By and large, these were his fellow combatants in the Battle of North London in '79. She was thrown off a thestral five hundred feet above ground, and he'd broken formation to catch her, losing the stoush in the process. He'd said later it was to avoid exposure in the Muggle press; the area below was heavily populated. Only a few believed him.
The reasons to free them are good ones, and they are many.
As for reasons to leave them in Azkaban, he has only one, and it is a bad one. He is not in the habit of critical self-reflection, but even he knows that.
He doesn't deserve her.
He doesn't customarily think in terms of deserving. Life is for taking, not for earning. But as in so many matters, Bella is an exception.
Even after mining thousands of minds, he doesn't really understand what it is to be a parent or a lover or a friend. He comprehends the roles enough to use them for leverage, but he can't really grasp what would motivate someone to place value on those roles in the first place.
But Bella – that, he understands. He understands greater and lesser, stronger and weaker, powerful and vulnerable. He understands the dignity of submission in the face of one greater than one's self. He understands what a gift it is when someone who is herself extraordinary, subjugates herself to him because he is more so.
He understands that she is his, and he understands that her gift has value.
The other thing he understands is exchange. As a child, he only hurt those who hurt him, but if they hurt him, he hurt them tenfold. As he grew older, every life he took was traded for a goal. It was less a matter of respect for life than it was a respect for economy. Everything should be traded as far as it could. Nothing should go to waste.
In a different world, he supposed he might have exalted her as his queen, but blood is the one way in which she is his better. He is not inclined to recall for his followers notions of greatness conferred by inheritance. So instead she is his most loyal, his most faithful. Greatness conferred by merit and submission.
In private, though, she is his queen. If her pledging of herself is an exchange of value, then his part in the exchange is to provide the attention to her that she would otherwise devote to herself. She signed away her self-interest, and he in turn – without ever saying so – pledged to consider her interests for her. It is a simple matter of balance. Without it, the transaction would break. Some transactions, he is willing to compromise and exploit until they collapse, but this is not one of them.
Nor is he without affection for her. He has always prized and pored over and treasured the things that he owns. And so it is with her. She is his most fragile possession, mortal, yielding, but it is her yielding that he loves. She yields willingly where others yield because they must.
Would she still yield now, he wonders?
He toys with the idea of freeing her. The Dementors have done his will before, and they have no more affection for the establishment now. It would be easy to revive their treaty. From first approach to breaching Azkaban would take only hours.
He has very nearly done it. Once, he got as far as the Strait of Dover. What drove him back that time was imagining their reunion. Imagining what she might say. She will see the ruin that he has become, and perhaps she will be repelled by it, but that is not the worst of it. The worst of it is that she will see his failure to shield himself and his failure to shield her.
He thinks all this as her sister watches him, patiently awaiting his answer, unable to quite disguise her fear. She has never asked for a favour before, and really, she ought to know better. He supposes that he will do as she asks – it will have to be done sooner or later anyway – but he will extract maximum value for it.
"Very well," he says severely at last. "I will free your sister. In exchange, you and your family will host her and her husband, and myself as well. We will rebuild the Cause together, with your home at its heart."
She pales visibly at the prospect, but only nods.
"We would be – most honoured, my Lord."
"Very good," he says.
Nothing should go to waste.
His footsteps echo through the halls of Azkaban.
"Free Rodolphus," he orders Lucius. "Take him home."
There must be no audience for whatever is to come.
He follows the hall to Bella's cell. It is easy to find; when they had laid siege to the prison, she was the only one to rush towards him and not away.
His footsteps falter when he casts the Alohamora and enters; she is still at the remains of her window, peering out into the driving rain.
"Bella," he commands as she turns. Wonders what she will do and say.
What she does is walk purposefully into his arms, arms that he hadn't even realised were open for her.
What she says is, "I knew you'd come."
I mentioned that this was inspired partly by The Art Of Perfect Surrender, a First War story in which Bella and Voldemort are in a formal D/s relationship. I was playing with the idea of what Voldemort might make of his responsibilities towards her in that structure, and whether that would resonate for him in a way that he actually genuinely valued and accepted. My thinking was that there might be a very rational and transactional sense in which that might be the case, and it all went from there.