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Deslea R. Judd
Pairing: Rodolphus/Bellatrix (mostly friendship), Bellatrix/Voldemort.
Summary: The Lestrange marriage isn't a love story, but it's real, just the same.
Word Count: Approx 2600
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
He never wanted a wife, but now she's all he has.
Rodolphus thinks this as they read out the charges against him. He doesn't have her grace under fire, and her defiance is beyond him. So he trains his eyes forward, schooling them into blankness, emptying them of fear and horror. He will not give them that.
He has not lost faith, but he is still a man, still facing hell, and he is afraid.
It's the first time he's seen Bella since their arrest. It was hoped that they would turn on one another. Not that there was a need. Neither he nor Bella would ever deny their Lord. The Aurors were fools to think they ever would.
Bella sits there in her chains, like a queen on her throne. She alone knows what his blank stare means, and what it costs him. There is pride in her gaze, and it dawns on him that her pride is not only in her own martyrdom, but in his as well.
At this realisation, his empty gaze almost falters. Almost.
There is no one else left who is proud of him. His father, though a sympathiser in secret, has disowned him and his brother too. Already, his hastily-procured bride carries the child who will replace them as heir. It stings, but Rodolphus understands. The home he shared with Bella has already been seized by the Ministry, and it is unlikely they will beget further heirs in their own line. Any child he and Bella might have in Azkaban will be forcibly taken and adopted. And Bella is already thirty. The washed-out Mark on his arm tells him that their Lord's return will be in the order of years, not weeks or months. They had delayed children, devoting themselves to the Cause, awaiting a better world, and now it is too late.
For all that, though, he is lucky. He will have a wife in Azkaban. He will have familiarity and comfort, and give it, too.
He didn't want her, but it isn't that he ever actively didn't want her, either. She was just a thing given to him, to be carried around with him like an heirloom, valuable and beautiful and prized, but not really all that useful. He was a package deal and she was the other part of the package. She has been so since they were children, and they made the best of it, he supposes, falling in together in their activities and their interests, and ultimately in the Cause. Not a love match, no, but real enough in its own way.
Maybe real enough to see them through hell.
"He's coming back. You mustn't lose faith."
Rodolphus says this to Bella's back – the only part of her he sees anymore. She turns it, her face to the bars, upturned and drowning in the light. The sun is dulled by clouds of grey, all healing warmth gone, leaving only over-bright rays that weigh heavily as they whiten like bleach. He can't see the tears drying on her cheeks, but her shuddering shoulders, over-thin, tell him that they're there.
"I know," she says. "I haven't. If he were gone, I would know."
"Yes," he says mildly. Just that. She has betrayed much with those words. He wonders if she knows it.
"I just miss him. That's all."
"I do, too." He does. The Dark Lord is mother and father to him, as well as Lord. He may have followed her into the Cause, but he came to love him as much as she does. If not necessarily in quite the same way.
"Not like that!" she cries. "Like-" and then she stops, because now she's betrayed too much, and this time, she knows it. Her fingers curl around the fabric of her dress, and her shoulder blades are hard lines, like curved scythes protruding from her back.
He approaches her, and sits down beside her on her little bunk. Strokes her hair back over her shoulder. "It's all right, Poppet. I know."
He hasn't called her Poppet since they met at school, already betrothed and two years apart. It incensed her then. Now it comforts her, all the tension falling out of her in a rush as she turns to look at him. "Rod," she whispers.
"It's all right," he says again. "Really."
It isn't all right, he supposes. She was rightfully Promised to him and she was supposed to be his. But their Lord is greater than all of them combined. You might as well begrudge your wife loving Merlin, or Salazar. He has long resigned himself to the fact that their Lord has a better, if not necessarily prior claim.
"He said I should never speak of it," she says quietly. "He said I should be a wife to you. He said it isn't right to make a man compete with a God."
"Maybe it isn't, but it really doesn't matter anymore." That isn't quite true either, but it's close enough. All they have in here is each other, and he's not going to lose her into the grieving corners of her own mind. He can see it happening, day by day.
Her chin wavers, and it occurs to him that he can't ever remember seeing her really weep before. The prospect of it alarms him. "I miss him," she says again.
He isn't sure if it was his intention all along, or it's just to make those tears stop, but he kisses her. Tender and fierce.
She pulls away, a look of agony and guilt on her face. "Oh, God, Rod, I can't-"
He takes her face firmly between his hands. "We need each other in here. Please." His hands soften. "Pretend it's him."
She draws in a breath, eyes darting back and forth, studying his gaze. Looking for something - anger or doubt, perhaps - and finding none.
Slowly, reluctantly, her eyes still holding his, she nods. Breathes out in a rush and falls still as he makes his way down her jaw, to her earlobe, to her throat.
He feels when she really lets go, arcing her neck against his lips. She relaxes deep into him. Breathes out, longingly, "Tom," and he wonders whether she was ever allowed to say it. Wonders if their Lord let her close enough for that before gently pushing her away. The bond between them is stronger on her side, yes, but not completely absent on his. Rodolphus has always thought that if there were someone for him, it would have been her.
It should be disconcerting, but really, he's past caring. The dull misery and monotony is killing him in here, and flesh riding against flesh is about the only joy left to them. She can think of the Giant Squid for all it matters at this point.
He's never been one for tender lovemaking, preferring a good hard fuck on the whole, but they have endless days to fill, and now dragging it out seems preferable.
So he takes his time, and when she touches him, it's with such reverence, such adoration that it takes his breath away. He's never felt anything like it. Not from her, nor from any woman before her either. He thinks he'll be Tom for her every day if it means she'll touch him like that all the time.
"Why do you do it?" she whispers one day, many months and many messed-up shags later. "What do you get out of it?"
"I get not to be alone," he says simply, and it isn't the whole truth, but it's the only truth that matters.
Their Lord has returned, but his rebirthing has taken its toll.
Rodolphus doesn't care, and neither does Bella, looking on him with shining eyes like he is still the exquisitely beautiful man of yesteryear.
They're in the minority, however. Every other set of eyes in the room is filled with revulsion as they are brought to him to be welcomed home, fragile and freshly-cleaned, skin feeling raw and naked with fourteen years of dirt washed away. At first he thinks the revulsion is for them - a simple bath cannot mask all the ravages of their imprisonment - but then it dawns on him in horror that the revulsion is for their Lord. His very greatness, his survival, has aroused their disgust. Rodolphus is filled with outrage at their disloyalty.
Rodolphus wonders if he will want Bella now. Before, he was married to his disciples, but now his disciples have been found wanting. He may be their Lord, but he is also a man, and even he might not be immune to the allure of comfort and adoration after all he has endured for their sake.
He thinks all this as their Lord greets him and searches his mind. Their Lord makes no effort to conceal his presence from Rodolphus, and Rodolphus makes no effort to conceal his thoughts, either. He finds their secrets, the way they clung to one another in prison. Finds his thoughts of here and now as well.
Their Lord's eyes meet his. A question.
Yes, he thinks without hesitation. The answer is so clear. She's yours anyway. She always was.
Their Lord nods thoughtfully. "You have been most loyal, always, Rodolphus. To the Cause, and to me. Both of you hold places of the highest honour in my service."
"Thank you, my Lord," he says, stepping aside for Bella.
Bella trembles as their Lord holds out his hand. She kisses it, and bows her forehead to it tenderly. "My Lord," she whispers, and she says it the way she used to say Tom.
They are allotted adjacent rooms in Malfoy Manor, but Bella never sleeps there. She never comes right out and says whether she's with him, and Rodolphus never asks.
Their new-look marriage is a bit like being back at school.
Back then, they were Promised, ostensibly one another's sexual property. In fact, they were two fiercely independent adolescents, teasing each other mercilessly in one moment, falling in together to serve a purpose in the next. They do so again now.
This is the marriage they would have had, he thinks, if it had been theirs to begin with.
She's mad, of course, quite mad. He supposes they both are, and maybe even the Dark Lord, too, in his way. But it is an honourable madness, a war wound, and the three of them look on one another with a regard the others can never quite seem to understand.
They dance in the evening, sit together at dinner. Now and then, after a couple of drinks, she calls him Roddy, her rejoinder to Poppet. Whatever she and the Dark Lord are in private, they seem unwilling to be in public, and he goes along without rancour. His own needs, never all that insistent anyway, are met often enough by Alecto.
He is a glorified cuckold, he supposes, and it isn't a life a self-respecting man should choose, but somehow it's enough anyway.
The spell hits him, that final night, like a punch to the jaw.
The last thing he really sees is the Metamorphmagus, riding behind one of the Potter doppelgangers, wand outstretched. A flash of purple strikes him - a spell he doesn't recognise, coarse, rough, like a physical blow. Handed down, no doubt, from her filthy Mudblood father. His head jolts back, hard, and he feels something irretrievably give.
"Bitch!" Bella screams, wounded and aggrieved. "Auror bitch!"
As he begins to fall from the sky, Bella veering off course, charging hard for her erstwhile niece, he thinks it's so very Bella to avenge him rather than come to his aid.
"The Healer's coming, Roddy."
Roddy and Poppet, he thinks dimly as moonlight intrudes on his blinking eyes. Not lovers' names, but real just the same. Roddy and Poppet, betrothed as children, who took their parents' agreement and turned it into a weapon and took on the whole fucking world.
"No," he says urgently, fully conscious now. "No Healers. Hemlock. Now."
"Rod!" she bursts out. She's kneeling over him, breath warm on his face. "It's nothing a bit of Skele-Gro won't fix!"
"I can't feel anything below my neck," he says patiently. "Skele-Gro can't fix spinal cords. You know that. Some men can have a good life without one, but I can't. I'm a soldier. It's all I know. It's all I want to know."
He watches as denial, then slow, hurting acceptance make their way across her features.
"I'll fucking kill that Tonks woman for this," she mutters, looking away. Her throat flickers.
"I know, Poppet," he says affectionately. "Help me up, will you?"
She does, pulling him up into her arms. They're in a Muggle children's playground. He feels an unexpected wave of nostalgia. In a different life, there could have been children.
No matter. Theirs may not be a love story, but it's still real, and it's theirs.
Her arms tighten. He can't feel them, but he can see them.
"Where are we, anyway?" he wonders.
"Fuck. I'm going to die in fucking Bristol?"
She laughs - really laughs - and then her laughter dissolves into silent shudders as she fumbles beside him. He can't see her hand, but he knows she's going for the little pocket on the front of her wand harness. There are six leaves in there. Leaves are old-fashioned, but vials of infusions can break. They pack them religiously, every time, for just this sort of eventuality.
"It won't hurt," she whispers as she feeds him the first leaf.
He knows. The coldness of paralysis, the constriction in his chest as he suffocates is something he won't even feel at all. His injury, in that respect, is a blessing.
"I know." He chews the second and third leaves carefully. His last meal, he thinks, and this strikes him as really pretty funny. He doesn't say so.
Her hand strays down to his chest. It isn't an affectionate gesture. It's to feel the coldness as it rises up over his heart.
"All right?" she says as she brings the fourth leaf to his lips.
He tries to nod, then remembers that he can't. "Never better."
He stares out over the playground and thinks that perhaps he should be disappointed by how his life has turned out. A wife whose heart belonged to another, no children, disowned by his kin, lands and titles stripped away. Over a decade in prison, his final year spent as his sister-in-law's houseguest under sufferance. Killed in the pursuit of a war not yet won. He has nothing, yet somehow he found a way to have everything anyway.
He wonders how it happened. He isn't a particularly good man, or a particularly patient one, and Merlin knows Bella is neither of those things either.
But somehow they fit together anyway.
"Poppet?" he says as he swallows the fifth leaf.
"Yes?" she whispers.
"Pretend I'm him?"
He hears the moist sound of her swallowing hard next to his temple. Her lips fall tenderly - oh, so tenderly on his head. She strokes his cheek with the backs of her fingers as he chews the sixth leaf and closes his eyes.
"It was real, you and me," he murmurs as his mind begins to falter, light-headed and foggy around the edges.
"Course it was," she says. "If you were anyone else, I'd have killed you years ago."
He can't laugh - his chest won't move - but he beams up a smile at her anyway.
"Rod," she whispers as his vision fades, and his last thought, his very last thought before his mind fades too is that it sounded like the way she says Tom.
1. The account of death by hemlock - particularly the idea that the body goes cold and rigid in an upward movement through the body - mirrors Plato's account of the death of Socrates (who was executed by hemlock infusion).
2. Rabastan Lestrange is ignored here for simplicity. For the sake of this story, I'm imagining that the brothers shared their ideals, but were not necessarily particularly close.
3. I don't think of this story as just a Rodolphus/Bellatrix/Voldemort triangle, although some of Rodolphus' zeal has interactions there. One of the things I had in my mind was how Rodolphus would relate, mentally, to a man he obviously regarded as a god or god-like figure, but who was also a man, and one who his wife loved. (Obviously I'm making some assumptions here, but Rodolphus did not appear to have romantic feeling for Voldemort, so his fifteen years of faith and loyalty must have been propelled by something else. At some point, most people would give up their belief in Voldemort's return, unless there was a god-belief involved. Most would also become disenchanted when they lost their wife as a result).
I drew, very loosely and with considerable poetic licence (so please put the pitchforks down), on ideas from Christology about how the disciples might have related to Jesus-the-man when he was alive. In thinking about Rodolphus' reaction to Voldemort's return and his disfigurement, I also had in my mind the way some Christian groups even now focus on the violent details of Jesus' suffering, almost to the point of fetish. I imagined this Rodolphus being motivated by a kind of spiritual (com)passion for his Lord's suffering. That is - he stepped aside as a service to the Dark Lord, as much or more than he stepped aside for Bella.
4. The Tonks-killing-Rodolphus plot twist in the Battle of Seven Potters was a nod to one of my little plot hole observations. It was, I think, rather silly and self-absorbed for Remus to immediately assume that Bella was targeting Tonks over her marriage to a werewolf, when Tonks had just shot Bella's husband out of the sky.