Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
The Kings And Queens Of May
Deslea R. Judd
Rating: NC17. Despite the appearances of the opening sentence, all action takes place between people of legal age.
Prompt: #105. She would do anything for her Master. For hprarefest 2013 on LiveJournal.
Summary: Each year, just for Beltane, Bellatrix is the Dark Lord's queen for a day. Dark romance, First War history, Bellatrix character study.
Word Count: Approx 4250 plus notes
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
Bellatrix was anointed the Dark Lord's queen when she was fifteen years old.
It had been a chance meeting, she believed at the time. She would learn later that nothing was by chance when it came to him. Not his visit to Hogsmeade. Not his presence in the Forbidden Forest. Not his sudden appearance, shocking, overwhelming, flooding her being and stealing her allegiance and her soul before she knew he had done it.
He came upon her, stretched out in the dew in Beltane's dawning light. She was staring up at the sky, watching the light strain to push through grey. Her hands slid over curves, arcing over her thin night-dress, chastely covered yet outlined with dew. She felt acutely alive, acutely aware, but curiously reluctant to touch the pounding, insistent parts of herself that had hounded her since she was a precociously young child. This time was home to those feelings, she could feel it in her blood, but not alone like this. It was for joining, for another, and Bellatrix had no other. Not before, and not now.
A low, rich voice jolted her from her reverie. "A young maiden, bathing in Beltane's dew. A follower of the old ways, then."
Bellatrix drew in her breath in a gasp. Sat, bolt upright, and crossed her arms over herself. "Circe! You scared the hell out of me," she blurted, but she didn't sound afraid. She was angry, angry at being caught unawares, and her tone was accusing. Later, she would speculate that this, more than anything, was why he chose her.
The stranger's shadow fell over, blocking out dawn's light. "Did I? I'm terribly sorry," he said, but sounded no sorrier than she had sound afraid.
"Who are you?" she demanded of the featureless silhouette before her. She was terribly self-conscious, terribly aware of budding breasts pushing against wet night-clothes beneath her crossed arms, but her words gave no hint of it. Her tone was autocratic. It always was.
"Fearless little maiden, aren't you?" he said approvingly, and with a touch of dark humour.
That was the second time he'd used that word, maiden, and it rankled. "Stop calling me that."
The humour fell out of his voice. He said, coldly, "You aren't, then?"
She would understand only many years later the danger of that moment. That had the answer been no, though she could not have been blamed for it, he would have killed her for it then and there. He had come in search of what he believed her to be, something already his, and would not have tolerated being found wrong.
"Of course I am," she snapped, and she would normally no more have discussed such a thing than served Mudbloods high tea. But something about his tone had compelled truth from her, had impressed on her that he would not tolerate evasion, that he would detect a lie.
Some of the chill left his voice. He said mildly, "Perhaps you think your purity will protect you, then. Perhaps that is why you are lying here in the Forbidden Forest, unguarded and unafraid."
"Nonsense," she said scornfully. "Purity has nothing to do with - with that."
Warmth, real warmth entered his voice then. "Indeed," he said. "But then why no fear?"
"Beltane has protected beasts for millennia. The crop-growers cared little for it, but the herdsmen..." she trailed off. It occurred to her that this man, this stranger would know the long-forgotten lore, the ancient truths that her professors no longer cared to teach. "The beasts of the forest care nothing for us, but they respect Beltane. They would never disrupt a ritual."
"You speak from experience."
"I've come here for five years now," she said. "This night, and this night alone, they allow me safe passage." It no longer mattered that she couldn't see him. She knew something of him, something deeper and more important than his name or how he had come to be here. The knowledge was seeping into her with every word he uttered.
"My brave little maiden," he said in a tone that was almost fond.
She didn't correct him that time, but she felt the wrinkle of hurt pass over her features.
The man tilted his head thoughtfully to one side, then, very deliberately, sank down on his knees before her. "It bothers you when I call you that. Why?"
"There is no honour in virginity," she said bitterly. "It means only that you have not yet found a place to belong."
This curious statement seemed perfectly rational to him. He didn't laugh, or shrug it off, or seem confused, as almost anyone else would have done. He said only, "And you do not belong."
She shook her head, chin held high and defiant. The tears in her eyes were sudden and they stung, but she would not betray them. Would not blink them back. She endured the salt and the hurt until they fell back on their own.
He said in a tone of quiet command, "Tell me."
It should have been excruciating - impossible - to tell him, to find the words and utter them, but they tumbled out of her, as easily as breathing.
"I've always... wanted. Long before my sisters. They were never troubled so. But it was never right. I always thought there was something else for me. I don't mean walks holding hands and white weddings and giggling and things. I mean something...something more."
"Something darker," he said quietly. "Something only you could understand."
"Yes," she said eagerly. "Something about the earth. Not the earth that is. The earth that is meant."
They were half-formed thoughts coming to birth as she said them, and they made no sense, but he seemed to take her meaning anyway. "It isn't only you that understands," he said after a moment. "There are others who know of the earth that is meant. The earth as it was of old." He reached out and stroked back her hair with long, cool fingers. "We were born out of place and time, you and I, but not without purpose."
Oh, Circe, those words, born out of place and time. It was like he'd reached into her soul and ripped them out of her. Like dragging out all her wounds and laying them bare, exposing them to the soothing, cooling darkness of his shadow.
"What purpose?" she whispered. Oh Merlin please don't let it be for nothing please-
"To bring it back," he said fiercely. "We aren't lost. We aren't wrong. It's the earth that's gone wrong. We're here to restore it as it was."
Those tears were back, spilling over as he awakened in her the hope for which she had so stoically grieved all these years - hope that there was something for her. She whispered, "I don't know how."
The dawn light was bridging the horizon of his form, casting dim rays over his features. He was old, at least compared to her, mid forties at a guess, and once that would have mattered. Now it didn't matter at all.
"I know," he said implacably, and she believed him.
"Tell me what to do," she whispered.
"I am the May King," he said. "Jack-of-the-green. The earth's guard." Gently but firmly, he grasped her wrists and wrested them away from her body. Looked on her in her almost-nakedness. "And you will be my queen."
She felt it then, breathless anticipation sinking long, cool fingers deep into the heavy, sodden earth that was her self. Had he sought to take her there, she would have allowed it, but he didn't. Instead, he said reflectively, "Virginity is no virtue, that's true, but chastity..."
"Chastity?" she echoed, unbelieving. It was the first thing he had said that she had not accepted as truth. She could not imagine that she would be so plagued with desires if her destiny was self-denial. Such cosmic jokes were the work of the pretenders, the gods of the Mudblood, not the gods of old.
A smile curled around the corners of his lips. "Such a passionate little maiden. Such a host of contradictions." His eyes roamed over her, then his hands - not on her, but over her, as though she were something too sacred to touch. They passed within a whisper of her dew-covered flesh. "To devote all this loveliness and strength and fire to the cause, forsaking all else - what a splendid thing that would be."
She felt longing, longing for the purpose and the meaning of which he spoke. But-
"And to hold your passions, and nurture them and let them grow. To unleash them at the service of the earth."
Oh. "On Beltane night."
"Then," he agreed. "Only then." His hand was on her at last; it cradled the hollows of her throat and trailed down her breastbone. Came to rest over her heart. "The holy fires of Beltane will renew us all."
She nodded. "Yes," she whispered eagerly. "Yes."
The sun rose as he kissed her, chastely, not so much affection as ritual sealing of their pact. It was only after he rose and Apparated away that she realised he had never told her his name, or asked for hers.
It didn't matter. He was her sovereign, her Lord, and she would know him anywhere.
Her father greeted the news with pride. He, too, was a believer in the old ways.
Narcissa was doubtful. She believed that every woman's highest destiny was marriage. The spiritual purpose to which Bella had been called was far beyond her overly-domesticated comprehension. But she was congratulatory, in a rather bewildered fashion, and asked questions that were so naive as to be endearing.
Andromeda sputtered outrage about what she called "masochistic superstition," and over-reacted by eloping with the supposedly-secret Mudblood of whom they had all believed she would tire. Her father consoled them that when the time came, Andromeda would come to her senses and take her place in the earth renewed. Bellatrix believed him; she knew what it was to feel the call of the earth.
It was taken for granted that she would still marry. Bella was still a noblewoman, and in this imperfect world, a noblewoman had appearances to uphold, higher calling or no.
Rodolphus Lestrange was chosen for his spirtual fervour and his sensible nature. He was unthreatened by the prospect of a wife more elevated than himself, and untroubled by her promised chastity for the cause. He asked only that she extend him the tolerance of a mistress, with a promise of utmost discretion. Bellatrix gladly obliged, and the Dark Lord rewarded him with the finest of women, the exquisitely beautiful Eleanor Parkinson. Their children would bear the name of old man Parkinson, who had long been mortified by sterility, evidenced by five childless marriages. It was anticipated that in the world restored, after Parkinson's passing and an amicable divorce from Bella, Rodolphus would acknowledge the children. The arrangement was satisfactory all round.
Beltanes came and went. On their third, first one of her womanhood, the Dark Lord took her virginity. Ascetically single-minded and disinterested in relationships, he was either no more experienced than she, or so little so as to be irrelevant. Their modest climax was mostly driven by spiritual fervour, the culmination of devotion to the earth that was. And, too, they barely knew each other. She was still at school and had not yet begun to stand at his side, though she wore his Mark already.
So she was a queen, and a woman, but not really a woman. That would come.
And one day, she would bear his heir, and his heir would be the world.
She was a woman on their sixth Beltane - her third as his lover.
The first time she was afraid, and the second time afraid of being afraid. But the third time she was surer, and met him as his queen.
Narcissa's desired marriage had been arranged, to one of the Dark Lord's up-and-coming young soldiers, Lucius Malfoy. They would come of age and wed within the year. That Beltane, they assembled outside the French doors of Malfoy Manor. It was one of few times of year that virtually all the Knights gathered. Even the wives and children gathered, along with the old, infirm, and squeamish - those who were accepted for their financial or political support, but couldn't or wouldn't fight.
They assembled in darkness, the lamps and hearth extinguished. They would be relit from the Beltane fire, spreading the fruitfulness and healing of the festival throughout the home. This year, it was needed; Abraxas Malfoy was in ailing health.
Formally, the Dark Lord approached her. Just as formally, she lifted her hand. He took it, and kissed it. "My dear queen."
She wasn't. She knew that. She was his partner in ritual, needed, not loved. But he had said it because it meant something to her, something he would never have done for anyone else. His manipulations seemed benign to her, even kind. He was, after all, greater than them all, and it was in the nature of the great to try to mould others to greatness. And she wanted to be moulded. Wanted to be what he wanted her to be.
She thought all of this in the moment that he pressed his thin lips to her knuckles. She thought it with great humility, and a loving acceptance that she did not recognise as such. Had someone remarked on it, she would have looked at them blankly. He was her Lord, already perfect; she added nothing to him.
So with a great swelling at her breast, she sank into a deep curtsey. Head bowed low. "My Lord and my King."
His hand tightened around hers, just enough to signal for her to rise, and she did.
Rodolphus stepped forward, with his brother Rabastan. "The May King and Queen," he pronounced.
"The May King and Queen," the Knights rejoined, and they set off into the grounds together.
As they led, Bellatrix thought, not for the first time, that these festivals, if not the whole gathering of followers, must be disappointing to the Dark Lord. Compromises had been made to accommodate their sensibilities, and perhaps that was a necessary evil, but it seemed to her now that they were also a stalemate, a barrier to their longed-for battle. It was 1970, and he had wanted to escalate their cause to war, but some lingering restraint seemed to be holding them back.
The name, for one thing. The Knights of Walpurgis. A historical name, Wizarding yes, but with its roots in Muggle feudalism. It had been appropriated by the Dark Lord's followers somewhere along the line, and he hated it - she saw it in the slight curl of his mouth every time it was used. She thought it was a cursed name, something that tied them to their respectability and their old ways of living, the privileged vestiges of the flawed world they must give up to restore the world that was.
The formality of the festival, formal clothes and finery - that was another. It was removed from the earthiness of the ritual. Once, it had been celebrated nude, but the conservative aristocracy would not accept that. Bellatrix could have met them halfway on the matter of nudity - there were, after all, children present - but the elaborate finery struck her as all wrong. Beltane was a time for simplicity, for boiling down all they were and all they had to the most basic elements of birth and life. She herself wore a simple black shift, and the Dark Lord's garb was similarly unadorned. If any of the Knights had noticed, they hadn't taken the hint.
And then, of course, there was her. She wondered if he found her a disappointment. Her fabled passions had not moved the earth, for them, or for the cause, either. The first time had been the breaking of her maidenhead, but last time should have been better. But she had been tense, afraid. She wasn't afraid now, but the feeling of failure nagged at her.
"It all changes tonight," he murmured beside her. "This time will be different."
It was no longer strange, the way he knew her thoughts like that. She pressed her hand around his. "Yes," she whispered. "Yes, my Lord."
They reached the clearing on the southern end of the property. Woodlands lay just beyond. As the festival wore on, couples would slip away there to have their own private rituals - as would they.
Together, they lit the Beltane force-fire, striking flints of wood together, the rest of the assembly looking on. As the two bonfires roared to life, they walked between them, and came to pause before his followers.
"Friends," the Dark Lord cried out in a ringing voice, "this Beltane we celebrate a new era. It is time to shed the disease that is ravaging the earth. It is time to return to a world governed by magic and by ancient blood." There were murmurs of agreement. "The world as we know it is dying, but we will no longer simply stand by and accept it. We will take the death and turn it on itself. We will consume it and spit out its bones like the enemy that it is."
Something was beginning to happen. She could feel it. It was an electric hum, making its way through the crowd. And she felt it too, felt her heart swell with fervour, felt the blood lust rising in her veins.
"No longer will we style ourselves as Knights," he spat. "That is from this world and this time. We are something more noble and ancient than that. We are the defenders of the earth of old. We are her righteous predators, spilling blood to nourish her rebirth. We will take her disease and her death and kill it and eat it. We will defeat her death with death."
The crowd was roaring sounds of agreement now, urged on by the roaring fire. Bella was roaring too, gasping out heavy breaths, as though something fundamental in her had been unleashed.
"From tonight, we style ourselves as Death Eaters," he commanded, "and tomorrow, we go to war!"
"To war!" the crowd agreed, and she shouted it herself, her whole body swaying in perfect ecstasy. She thought she saw tears in more than a few young men's eyes.
"DEATH EATERS!" he proclaimed, at fever pitch, and Merlin, she felt it pooling in her belly, call to possession, to submission. "Let the festival begin!"
The roars rushed over her as the crowd surged forward, urging them on, back between the bonfires, until they were in the middle, heat and roaring and blood pounding in her veins, her hand grasping unthinkingly for his.
He gave a keening growl of hunger, blood lust and desire all in one, grasped her hard against him, and whirling, they Apparated in a swirl of robes together.
They whirled to earth deep in the forest.
They fell together against a tree, scrambling at clothes. He kissed her, hard, clamouring possession, and she gave herself up to it gratefully. "Oh Merlin, oh God, oh Circe, oh yes-"
"I am your God," he growled. His hands were on her, long fingers deep inside her, and she shuddered around him, crying out.
"Yesyesyes," she gasped as he lifted her and sank deep into her. Oh God, she loved his cock, loved the feel of him inside her, loved feeling that at last she was whole-
"Mine," he hissed, shoving her hard against the tree. Hard grooves of bark bit into her back, dragging her dress.
At that, she came, crying out all the names of God, and all of them were him.
That festival was the beginning of the war.
She had brought it forth from her body, she sometimes felt, and sometimes he felt it too. He taught her to duel that year, so she could fight at his side, and often they wound up on the floor, him grasping her arms over her head and taking her hard, holding her down by his hands on her wrists and his hips pinning hers.
"For the earth," he would hiss, but it wasn't Beltane, and she knew that it was for him.
Not that it seemed to matter. The war went from strength to strength. The year that she fell to the forest floor, coming so hard and so much that she couldn't have stopped if she'd wanted to, sobbing with utter relief even as he kept thrusting into her, that year was the year the giants came and proposed a treaty. He celebrated the treaty by taking her every way she could think of, and a few ways she couldn't. By now, he no longer made even nodding reference to reserving herself for Beltane. He wanted her, badly, and they both knew it.
Still, Beltane was special. Every year, he plunged deeper into the forest and deeper into her, and every year, their joining brought forth some new great victory.
She thought that it always would, but she was wrong.
The Dark Lord was felled, they said, by an infant child.
She felt it, when it happened, a violent rending inside her. Heard his scream as something fundamental in him was ripped away.
They knew, Rodolphus and Rabastan and Eleanor, before the news broke in the Prophet. They were with her when she fell to the floor, screaming, clawing out with her hands. By the time the daily owl arrived, dawn's light rising, she had fallen into a fitful slumber in Eleanor's bed. Eleanor sat beside her, nursing her youngest, Pansy, exchanging troubled looks with Rodolphus.
"He isn't gone," she said in a low, grieving voice a few hours later. She had woken to the headlines - The Boy Who Lived - and the rising fear and disillusion of their friends. Even now, Narcissa and her husband were laying the groundwork to claim the Imperius. Lucius had been admitted to St Mungo's in a supposedly catatonic state hours before. How faithless they were, how inadequate. How right he had been to insist on her single-minded devotion.
Even Rodolphus was not immune. "Bella," he said, with great kindness. "Oh, Bella. You know they wouldn't claim victory if they didn't have cause. They wouldn't dare." He stroked her hair. Said more gently, "I know you loved him."
"Love him," she corrected fiercely. "Then they must know where he is. Do you honestly believe a mere child could fell him? The Aurors have him, they must! They want to kill him without trial, that's why they've said he's already gone!"
Rabastan was nodding across the table. "It makes sense, Rod. If she says she can hear him, I believe her. Remember who she is."
"The Longbottoms," she said suddenly. "They're both Aurors, and part of the Order, too. If anyone knows, it will be them." She was rising, shaking off Rodolphus' hand. "We have to go. Now."
Rodolphus stared up at her. Alarm was written into his features. "Are you insane? I have children. I'm not loping off on a fool's errand, into the hands of the Aurors, no less!" He got to his feet and took her by the shoulders. "He was just a man after all, and he's gone."
She shook him off. "I'll pretend you didn't say that," she hissed, "but say it again and I'll kill you where you stand."
Rodolphus lifted his hands off her. Pale. Stricken. He knew he'd crossed a line.
Rabastan tried to break the stalemate. "It is dangerous, Bellatrix, even by our standards. I'll come, and so will Barty. Rod can stay back. Parkinson's dying. He's needed here."
"The hell he can!" she snapped. She turned to Rodolphus and flared, "You wouldn't even have them if not by his grace and mine!"
Rodolphus shot Rabastan an agonised look, but didn't argue. Behind them, Eleanor was weeping softly. Bellatrix ignored her. What did Rodolphus' miserable little family mean in the face of the capture of their Lord?
"I'll come back," he whispered when they left. Eleanor said they wouldn't, but that she loved him for saying it.
Bellatrix suspected she was right, but they went anyway.
Bellatrix spent the next Beltane, and many more after, in Azkaban.
She was half-mad by then, still sane enough to comprehend her rising madness, but too far gone to stave it off. She clung to enough of herself to count the days, though. She was still his queen, and she knew her duty.
She made the force-fire with the remnants of her broken wand. Set two miserable little piles of straw from her bedding alight, and lay down between them. They were little more than cinders. She thought of that first Beltane as a woman and brought herself to climax after climax, almost by the memory of it alone. As the shudders seized through her, she thrust forth her mind and searched for him, with every shred of strength she could muster.
My passionate little maiden, his voice broke through, just as warmly as the first time he'd said it, but thinner, somehow. The substance of him was gone.
"The holy fires of Beltane will renew us all," she whispered.
They will, he said. They will.
His voice fell away with the tremors of her body, and she settled down to wait.
1. Written for gamma_x_orionis and the hprarefest 2013. The prompt was simply Bellatrix/Voldemort. I also did the artwork for the same fest and prompt. The art came first and inspired the fic; once I had the visual concept it seemed very iconic and ritualised. I wondered about whether there was any way to link it to Beltane - I've long thought, from the odd mentions of "old ways" and so on, that there was a quasi-religious dimension to Voldemort's cause. That would explain why so many otherwise conservative and conventionally-respectable people embraced his cause. People tend to embrace megalomaniacs on a wide scale if they see the megalomania as justified - if they believe the person actually is a god, or a leader on a superior-to-mortal level, or something of that kind. I also think Voldemort would conceptualise himself that way. He seems to have rejected his "weak" Pureblood mother right along with his father; it stands to reason that he might consider something else his "real" mother and life-source. In this case, it's the earth's desire for rebirth.
2. The Knights of Walpurgis was a former name of the Death Eaters in a backstory written by J.K. Rowling. The reference was mentioned, without any context, in an interview in 2003 (link).
3. References to Beltane customs are more-or-less historical and sourced from generally available information, especially wisdom-of-wicca.com and wikipedia. However, I've probably conflated Gaelic, Druid, Wiccan, neo-Pagan, and other variants covering a wide variety of eras.
4. I originally planned the first Bellamort Beltane to coincide with Voldemort's visit to Hogwarts to ask Dumbledore for the position of professor of Defence Against The Dark Arts. However, Bella's teens are a little too late in the era, and that visit took place in winter (as Rosier et al travelled in the snow to accompany him). But then I realised the Forbidden Forest must not be warded, since Voldemort was able to eke out an existence there separately from Quirrell in Philosopher's Stone. The Forbidden Forest/PS linkage also had a nice symmetry to it: Bellatrix, were she not imprisoned, might go to look for him there. Although this Voldemort is looking for a ritually symbolic queen rather than a lover or a wife, I think he would accept her nurturing in that situation, as an extension of the nurturing of the earth (the true mother and source of his being).
5. There are shades of Stephen King's The Stand here. I've always been intrigued by Nadine's status as the promised wife of Randall Flagg, although I've never really been able to conceptualise it properly. I think I understand it better now, having linked Bella's sense of displacement back to her precocious physical awareness and the way that made her feel separate from the people around her.
6. Which brings me to Bellatrix herself. I've written her in a couple of ways in my fics - sociopathic and mad usually. This is the first time I've written her from her own point of view, and the interesting thing is, she is neither sociopathic nor mad here. Her worldview is based on a false premise (that her profound sense of displacement is indicative of a role in Voldemort's higher destiny), but it's internally consistent and rational, and driven by an experience of intense feeling that is a completely logical response to the situation in which she finds herself. Her single-minded devotion to Voldemort, who is completely conflated with the cause, makes perfect sense. The ritual nature of the relationship means she can separate the relationship from the way he mocks her and otherwise repudiates her in the later part of the series (and it also means she believes he has every right to correct her; they are not equals even in the relationship because it isn't a relationship in the normal way. Arguably, it could even explain his hostility towards her even as he needs her - she has seen, or rather sensed him at his most vulnerable, and he would hate that). It also explains, incidentally, Voldemort's utter outrage at her death in Deathly Hallows - something we do not see about Severus' betrayal, Lucius' defection, Narcissa's lie, or any other disappointment from his inner circle. Harry describes her as his first lieutenant, and whatever else is or isn't canon or pseudo-canon, she was certainly that. She was different, and he viewed her as different. If he perceived her as a ritualistic and pre-destined partner, her death would be the first really irrefutable signal to him that he, too, could die.
7. By extension, Rodolphus gets a much kinder treatment here, too. My intention wasn't to gloss over their atrocities, but rather, to highlight a possible underlying motivation. For me, the issue in writing Purist characters is less about whether they're right or wrong, but whether their actions made sense in some way to them. Since most people are not actually insane, it follows that for at least some of them, there must be a motivation and internal logic that has a kind of rationality for them.