Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Word Count: 4500
Summary: As his Horcruxes die, they take the best and worst of him with them. The Dark Lord's last day.
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
And in those days there was a wizard named Fiachra, a man terrible yet great, and he was resolved to defy the natural laws of the gods and live as them for all time. He took life and bartered it for the pieces of his soul, each life buying a new vessel for parts of his own self. The gods kept their bargain, but exacted their vengeance just the same, for each new vessel held the parts of himself most prized. The pieces could be killed only by the greatest of magic, but they could still die. And as each part was killed, so too were the parts of himself he thought most worth fighting for, until all that remained was his heart stripped bare. And so it was that even Fiachra paid the price we all must pay for eternal life - the surrender of ourselves to the gods. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
Bella is weeping.
She sits there, crouched against the wall, her head drooped down between her shoulders, her arms wrapped around her knees. Dead goblins lay all around her; their blood seeps up the hemline of her dress.
He's never seen her like this.
He's seen her wretched, yes; he freed her from Azkaban himself. He has seen her remorseful and debased, and injured, too. But not this.
She's there in his peripheral vision as he chastises the Malfoys, Nagini slithering around his feet. This is ritual, this admonishment; he means it, but mostly he says it to reinforce his authority and his control. He is no longer angry. He has purged the worst of that on Gringotts' goblins. But better that the Malfoys do not know it. Better that they think they owe their lives to only the slenderest thread of self-restraint.
Finally, he bids them leave. Shivering, they do, mother and son grasping for one another's hands as they depart. Nagini follows, pausing only to drink from the feast of crimson on the floor.
He and Bella are alone.
He walks over to her. Touches her shin with his toe. Not gently, but not hard either.
"Bella. Go to bed." There are still two hours before full morning, and he intends to have them in peace.
She nods, still weeping, and she scrambles to her feet and scuttles away.
The first part of Fiachra to be lost was his pride, his belief that survival and thriving was achieved alone. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
He likes the grounds of Malfoy Manor.
Lucius imagines that he envies their wealth, but it isn't that at all. He likes the grounds because they remind him of Theth. He had not enjoyed exile, of itself, but he had enjoyed the peace of the Albanian forest, and more and more now, he misses it.
He is back, but he is not the same, and he can't convince himself anymore that the changes are only external. Once he had enjoyed the thrill of the chase - games and manipulation, wars and strategy. Now it leaves him deadly tired and he wants to it to come to an end.
He knew he was different the day he realised he missed Bella.
It was about a year after Quirrell had died. Losing Quirrell was a relief in some ways; he didn't have to put up with the prattle in the man's brain or the practical matter of sustaining a radically-maimed form. No more noise, no more miserable kills. A unicorn's death was a peculiarly depressing thing, whatever one's sensibilities.
All things considered, it wasn't a bad outcome. Especially considering the alternative.
So he drifted. He drifted back to the comfort of familiar, back to Theth. Much of that time was spent in the no-man's-land between waking and sleeping as he recovered from another ordeal at the hands of that wretched boy.
One night, he had woken with a start, mind cloudy, echoes of a scream and a phoenix's cry and a searing of paper with splashes of ink. The searing was familiar; he had felt it in a child's bedroom, and in a chamber as Quirrell burned.
It dawned on him, realisation fighting up through sleep, that his diary was gone. That part of him was gone.
Terrible, suffocating panic had risen. Like him, it had no physical form; it was free-floating. He was dead, he was dead; and though he had planned for this eventuality, though it was only a sliver of himself, it seemed to him like the whole.
The panic persisted for many, many minutes; it did not respond to logical thought. Nor did he have the option of control through the rhythms of his body. He had no breaths to regulate, no eyes to close, no hands to flex.
He grasped in his mind, grasped for images of things and people. Familiar things. Prized possessions, prized people. His thoughts fell on the Lestranges, his most faithful, his most loyal. They would follow him at any cost, would give even their lives for him. As recently as a year ago, Bellatrix had cried out for him in a photo in the Prophet. Quirrell had read the story to him from the weekend supplement; she was, the Skeeter woman proclaimed, as insanely devoted to him as ever.
Bella, he thought. Bella will come.
It wasn't true - he would be the one to free her, he knew that even then - but somehow the thought soothed him anyway.
He kept on thinking it until he was calm once more.
The next part of Fiachra to die was his wilful ignorance of others, and empathy rose in its place. He was as selfish as he had ever been, and thus his empathy was sparing and rare. But it was empathy, all the same. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
He likes to walk among the dead.
It was his favourite pastime as a child, walking in the little potter's field at the orphanage, walking among all the dead mothers (including his own). The dead mothers didn't call him strange or queer, didn't look on him with hate or fear. They lacked opinions of him, lacked interest in him, and that was a relief.
Sometimes he thought that was what love was like, acceptance, passive embrace, sharing of space. If so, that was a thing he could respect, far more than the grandiose passions spoken of by the deluded, passions that were almost always a lie.
He thinks this as he walks between headstones, Malfoy after Malfoy after Malfoy. Occasional outsiders are interspersed, in-laws and friends influential enough to be claimed, or else unfortunate enough to be interred solely to spare the family the embarrassment of a pauper's grave.
Rodolphus Lestrange is the latter.
He is eight months gone, now, put in his grave by the blood traitor Tonks. (A noble Black by birth, no less, and they'd have welcomed her despite the taint of her filthy Mudblood father if she'd only been willing to reconcile. Especially if reconciliation had involved her father's head on a platter). He'd died well, fighting to the end; he'd died badly, crashing to the ground and injured beyond all help. Bella had made sure Tonks' father died just as badly a few months later.
There are flowers on Rodolphus' grave. They are nearing a week old, drooping but not quite dead, but against the backdrop of dozens of neglected graves, they suggest utmost care and devotion. Bella visits often, and that had surprised him at first. He knew, of course, that she mourned, but he hadn't expected such ritualistic observance.
On the third Sunday in a row after Rodolphus had passed, Bella wasn't at breakfast. He'd picked apathetically at his food. He'd slept poorly, haunted by dreams, half-remembered fragment of fear and falling and a ring jittering across a desk. He'd left most of his breakfast untouched and followed her, ignoring the bemused expressions of the Malfoys. She was insane, yes, but not too insane to grieve, and he knew it even if they did not.
"You're wondering why I keep coming here," she'd said after they had stood in silence a while.
"No. I'm not."
She darted a glance at him, and then a ghost of a smile rose on her face. "They are," she smirked, nodding back towards the house. "They think, because I didn't love him, that…"
"That you didn't love him," he supplied.
She didn't explain, and didn't need to. Her love for Rodolphus was not a passionate love, not the love of a wife, but it was love just the same.
On an impulse he couldn't explain, he leaned in. Kissed her temple. She turned against him, tears streaming from closed eyelids. He couldn't have tolerated it from anyone else, but from Bella, there was no demand, no obligation. Only grateful acceptance of whatever he was willing to give. For her, he could spare this.
Lucius had a rather annoying expression of triumph when he returned to the house, and he'd responded with a well-placed Crucio.
He wasn't completely sure even now whether he'd done it for himself or for Bella, but either way, he thought it served the bastard right.
It is an article of faith among the good of heart that the greatest gift, love, is for them alone. History shows us that this is manifestly untrue, for even the barbarians among us love those they have chosen for their own. With belief in self-sufficiency gone, and a flawed but true empathy in his heart, Fiachra was as able to love as the rest of us. When the next piece of him was taken by the gods, with it was taken his determination to keep himself apart, and he could no longer remember why he had done it at all. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
Dawn is creeping across the sky, glimmers of light reaching over the horizon like fingers of a greedy, grasping hand.
Bella's room is dark, but he can see her, standing by the window, watching him. He can't make out her face, but there is misery in the lines of her, the way she leans against the windowframe and twitches apathetically at the drapes.
She is, it seems, as restless as he. Like herd animals bracing for a coming storm.
He has always slept lightly. It was a habit formed in the orphanage and never broken, long after his childhood tormenters had been ruthlessly driven into a gratifying submission. It had worsened since his return, though, and steadily more so over time. Now, he is haunted by vague images of fighting up through water, through forest, drowning in emotions that are not his own but are oppressive just the same, jealousy and resentment and nagging feelings of not good enough that remind him uncomfortably of wary looks when he was just a boy. Feelings that explode, waking him with a start, leaving him assailed and worn night after night.
Since Rodolphus has passed, Bella has been his fellow traveller. They walk like ghosts together down darkened, lifeless hallways. When she talks about Rodolphus at all, it is halting and brief, and always in the dim light of dawn, but mostly they walk in silence. Like two wraiths, fading but not yet dead.
He holds his gaze on her as he walks back toward the house. Walks in purposeful strides, in through the French doors, past the elves cleaning up what remains of the goblins, past Nagini snacking on one in the corner. Through the hall. Up the stairs. Past the Malfoy rooms. Past the room that had belonged to Rodolphus.
He comes to Bella's room, and knocks. He does it gently.
She opens it. She is already holstering her wand in her harness, already dressed. Just in case.
"Yes, my Lord?"
Even in her misery, she is ready to serve, to give. Who else ever has given, not for a cause, but simply for him?
"I want you to tell me why you grieve."
She stares at him. "I - what?" She blinks in confusion, and he realises that she thinks he means Rodolphus.
"Downstairs," he clarifies. "Before. When I was questioning the goblins. You were…upset."
She swallows hard. "I was afraid. The goblet was stolen from my vault. You might blame me." Her voice falls to a whisper. "I blame myself."
She is drawing back a little, perhaps without realising it. It isn't the answer he's looking for, but she believes it, and not so long ago she would have been right. He would have blamed her. He doesn't have it in him to blame her now.
"Perhaps. But I've only ever seen you like that once before. It was the night Rodolphus was killed." Actually, he's never seen her like that at all, but Rodolphus was as close as she's come. He reaches out and lifts her chin with a single, long finger. "I want to know why."
Her gaze lifts in the creeping light, locking on his. "It's part of you," she whispers. "And they're going to kill it."
He stares at her. It hits him, really hits him that she's grieving for him. Grieving because a part of him is about to die. It isn't even a measurable part, but it is precious to her simply because it's him.
He doesn't think he's ever been genuinely precious to anyone. Anyone but her.
It washes over him. Suffocating and liberating. He reaches out, cradles her jaw. Not hard, but not gentle either as he leans in to kiss her, as she kisses him. Two colourless wraiths in the grey of dawn, reaching out with grasping hands for substance and light.
Her kisses are slow and deliberate. Moulding to the contours of his lips as he moulds to hers. Their touches are neither delicate nor fierce. They are thoughtful, fitting together as perfectly as they can. They navigate the space between them and put it carefully away. The sounds she makes are slow and deep, not rising to a pitch, but sinking deeper and deeper he sinks into her. Like sinking into a hot spring. They fall slowly together, bodies grounded in one another, weight against weight, thigh against thigh, brow against brow. Their climax is as slow and heavy as the rest of it, bringing each other to a perfect rest.
As dawn casts its light on them, as they drift together in the no-man's land between wake and sleep, he feels his world expand to include her.
As sleep overtakes him, he thinks that really, maybe it always has.
Like the breaking of a dam, Fiachra's downfall came ever more swiftly, each of his vessels breaking more quickly than the last. The next part of himself to die was the extremity of his intemperance. He was and would forever be drawn to darkness, for that was his nature, but where once he had delighted in the wantonness of waste, now he laid forfeit only what he must in the pursuit of his evil goals. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
There is no ambiguity about it when they kill the Horcrux in the goblet later that day, his forces already converging on them in the school where it all began.
There are no half-remembered dreams, no sudden starts from sleep. He is fully awake, standing in the open air, and he feels stabbing and chills and it feels as though he's drowning.
Bella knows what's happened. He can tell by the way she doesn't rush to his side. There is sorrow etched into her features, and she backs away, where no one can see her blinking back tears.
His soldiers are watching. Worried by this sign of weakness.
"The boy is cracking under pressure," he improvises. "He has let down his guard. For a moment, I achieved a connection with him. He and his friends have gotten separated. He is the weakest he has ever been. He is so bowed down by his fear of our forces that for a moment I could feel his terror myself."
As cover stories go, it's paper-thin, but it's enough. The air around them is a tangible thing, leaving their shoulders straighter and their heads higher as the burden of tension lifts off them. They are visibly invigorated by this illusion of weakness in the enemy. He needs to make the most of it.
He strides forward. Bella is there, just a couple of steps behind. Following his lead.
The Protego around the school is a strong, a visible thing, but his wand is stronger, and so is he, goblet or no goblet. He feels it, power flowing through him, fighting back the shield. Sees it start to break apart into little shreds of light.
Through it all, he sees the school. His own school, once, and the first home he'd had. He'd been viewed with suspicion here - Dumbledore had told anyone who would listen that he was a psychopath in the making, and a good number had listened - but he had also had acceptance. It had been for the first time in his life.
The power wavers, just a little. He will kill every person in it if he must, but he wants the school to stay standing. He wants it there in the world to come.
As the power wavers, so does the wand. Splintering cracks rise up, faint ruptures in the wood.
He lowers it. No one can know.
"The school is to be spared," he proclaims. "After we take it, we will raise the next generation of Pureblood wizards and witches there, just as our forefather Salazar intended. Go, all of you, and liberate it for our children."
"For our children," Lucius cries fervently, and the others join in, roaring as they stampede towards the castle.
He looks down at his wand, the wand that is supposed to be unstoppable, and knows then that he is not its true Master.
Severus, he thinks. Severus must die.
"No doubt the Tonks woman is in there," he says without looking around. Bella will not leave him without express instruction to do so. "Go and avenge Rodolphus."
He casts his gaze one more time at the school, his home for better or worse, and then he goes in search of Severus.
The school can be spared, he thinks, but its headmaster can not.
After that was his ungratefulness. Fiachra was a selfish man, and his gratitude did not change his pursuit of his interests, but no longer was he blind to the kindnesses and loyalty bestowed by others. At times when it came at no cost to himself, he sometimes even acknowledged them. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
"I regret it."
Regret, he thinks, is exactly the right word. Not sorrow - Severus' death is as necessary as any - but had there been another way, he supposes he would have taken it. The man had been loyal, more loyal than most. It had been a heaviness in his mind, already smarting from heat and fire, and it hadn't deterred him from his chosen course, but he had taken no joy in it either.
Bella wisely says nothing. She has never thought well of Severus, and he knows she will sleep easier with him gone.
"However," he goes on, "his death has not been in vain. Through his sacrifice, I will prevail. Those who have fought at my side will be vindicated. You most of all."
A flicker of a smile appears on her face. Just a flicker. The smile broadens when Nagini pushes up against her, prodding her hand. She gives a little rub of the creature's scales with long, pale fingers.
After a long moment, she says slowly, "No one will be happier than me when you get what you seek. You know that."
He raises an eyebrow. "But?"
"I'm not Severus and I'm not Lucius," she spits. "I didn't choose you because you were a strongman who could win. I did it because you were right. It's why I chose you and it's why I love you. And I would have followed you to your defeat just as willingly as your victory."
He feels it then, the same suffocating/freeing feeling as that morning. Like being carried out to sea by crashing waves.
"If you had followed me to defeat," he mutters, looking away, "I would have won anyway."
He will never tell her he loves her, but the look on her face tells him that she already knows.
As Fiachra's tale approached its denouement, his greed became its victim. Where once he had been an unquenchable rival, hungry for every spoil, every vengeance, every gain whether real or symbolic, he gradually became aware of the concept of enough. Not enough in the sense of sharing with others, for he was not of that kind, but enough to be satisfied himself. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
His head hurts.
It isn't clear to him exactly why. Since the parts of him have started to die, he has had phantom aches and pains, and he is no longer exactly sure which pains relate to which Horcrux. But what he does know is that Nagini still lives; she is slithering around him, making comforting sounds of movement through grass.
Bella is fussing over him, tender words and stroking hands, and his first thought is that it's actually rather pleasant. His second is that he can't have his followers seeing her doting on him like she's his bloody wife. They have a war to win.
He pushes her away, and not very gently either. He sees the pang of hurt flitting over her features, but then, grimly, she pushes it away. He knows that she understands.
She is all business as they turn their attention to their fallen opponent. Somehow, the boy managed to inflict a final blow, and it was a bad one, but he is clearly the worse off of the two.
"Dead," the Malfoy woman says of the boy, but really, he's reluctant to believe it. It makes sense, of course; he has the Elder Wand. And yet there have been so many near-misses down the years.
He doesn't believe Potter has a particularly charmed life, other than the benefit of a mother who loved him (and that injustice alone burns; his own mother had been ready to give him up when she died. Why else give birth in an orphanage, after all?). But one thing the wretched boy certainly does have is the benefit of being on the opposite side of his own, cursed life, and he is wary of believing the curse has lifted.
He has never known exactly what it was about him that led the world to inflict blow after blow of abandonment and suspicion and unfair, but it has been unrelenting. The Prophet waxes lyrical about the terrible cursedness he has brought on himself through his supposed monstrousness, but given that he was cursed in the first place, it wasn't as though he'd had a lot to lose.
But then, all luck runs out eventually, and perhaps cursedness does too.
He steps forward and aims his wand at the boy. "Crucio," he says. It is the only way to be sure.
The body convulses, but does not cry out.
It seems he is really dead.
At this, others come forward, eager to unleash their own frustrations and anger. Some have spent time in Azkaban; he can hardly reproach them for it. And yet he feels an odd sort of distaste as well.
It isn't a newfound respect for the boy, or for the dead in general. It just strikes him as unnecessary, a distasteful excess. It is the kind of distaste one might feel for a display of gluttony in a land of plenty. There isn't a good reason not to do it, but there isn't really a good reason to do it either.
"You would think, the way they carry on, that they'd killed him themselves," Bella says dryly, coming up beside him.
She hasn't partaken in the abuse of the boy's corpse herself. Not that she has any great scruples about it, but he knows that she considers the rank and file followers beneath her. The very fact that they are clamouring to do it makes her want to abstain.
He considers taunting her with the fact that she would be doing exactly the same if they were alone with the boy. He discards the idea; that, too, is unnecessary. In less than an hour, she will be lost to him, and he will be glad he chose restraint.
"Let them have their fun," he says mildly instead. "In time, we can mould them into what we want them to be."
"Yes," she says. Turns her head to look at him. "Congratulations, my love. The world is yours."
He keeps his gaze straight ahead. "And yours," he murmurs. Casual. Mildly conversational.
He feels her edge closer, feels her fingers brushing his, and for him, the war is already won.
The last part of Fiachra to die was his fear of death, and fittingly so, for after that he was mortal. He who had pursed life at all costs, was finally deserted by the same determination that had led him there. The foolish felt this an injustice, for he would have suffered more to cling to life unto his dying breath. But the wise know, as the gods know, that the enlightenment that comes of seeing the world in its true proportions is a worthy goal of its own. -- Feildelm of Corvonii, circa 520 CE
When Bella dies, within minutes of Nagini, he knows that it is over. His scream, wounded, aggrieved, is his last truly potent act. Everything after that is just his final gasp for breath.
The weariness is overtaking him, has been overtaking him for years. Perhaps since Godric's Hollow. For a long time, his determination to conquer death has kept pace, but now it is slowing with every move he makes.
He doesn't want to die. He still thinks all he has done has been proportionate to the prize. But the fury, the fervour, the determination to win and win and win simply isn't there anymore. The world wreaked injustice and abandonment on him, and he returned the favour, and managed to steal something for himself anyway.
He's already won. Not everything, but enough. Enough to have extracted a fair price from a world that seemed hell-bent on giving nothing at all.
If Bella had lived, that would have been enough to keep the fight alive, but now-
Well. She died his. That's something the world never managed to take away.
He will fight to the end, of course. His surrender is something else the world will never have from him. What he has mightn't be enough anymore, but he will give it all the same.
He thinks all this as he is poised by Bella's body, preparing to make his final stand.
When he falls, he turns. Falls heavily into the solidness of her body. As dawn breaks through stained-glass windows and his eyes drift closed in perfect rest, he thinks in triumph:
Inspired initially by a scene fragment in DH2, in which Voldemort walks among the dead goblins on the eve of the final battle, while Bellatrix slumps weeping against the wall. I'm told the fragment is actually present in the film, you just can't see her under ordinary conditions because of the lighting.
Well, this is an odd little one, isn't it? Originally it was going to just be a poignant last morning, to contrast against the horrors of the final battle, with the OOC-ness excused by Voldemort's realisation of why Bella was upset. But even when I'm willing, I don't do OOC very well. I really need a thread, at least a tenuous one, to make it all hang together with canon.
So like many of my stories, it evolved from plot holes followed by what-ifs. Like, yes, okay, Bella loves him, but why would that matter to him any more than it ever has? Well, what-if some of his inhumanity is dying with the Horcruxes? But surely if that happens, he's becoming good - how does that reconcile with the final battle? Well, what-if he's not becoming good, just sporadically less determined about being the Ultimate In Evil(TM)? What-if that's actually contributing to the erratic moments and it all falling apart? What-if that was the actual mechanism by which Voldemort was weakened by the killing of the Horcruxes? And on it went.
I've also wanted to see a flawed-but-loving widowed Bella ever since I wrote Rodolphus' death under similar circumstances in Real, and it dovetailed with the grief theme quite naturally. I've also wanted to play with Voldemort's attitude of righteous anger at the world, which I'm quite sure is a factor in both his warmongering and his psychopathy/sociopathy in general.
But I can definitely say hand-on-heart that none of it would ever have happened without the movie fragment that inspired the opening scene. Proof positive that Tumblr isn't the root of all evil after all. *snerk*