Rodolphus Lestrange discovers a secret his wife has been hiding from him. (Based upon the French myth of Mélusine.)
Beside him, his wife Bellatrix slept on, her back to the sunlight. Rodolphus trailed his hand down her side, her bare skin warm beneath his touch. She snorted softly through her nose, a half-snore, and curled herself more tightly around her pillow.
He watched her for long minutes, content to admire her beauty as clouds of sleep slowly drifted from his mind. Bella's skin was ivory-pale, barely sun-touched, despite the heat and the unseasonably warm spring weather. Sleep had tangled her long black hair into a fluffy halo around her face. He smoothed it down into a semblance of neatness, and tucked a few errant strands behind her ear. She was so very lovely, he almost ached to look at her -- a full mouth, dark, seductive eyes, and the strong Roman nose that was the mark of all her family, all framed in a heart-rending heart-shaped face.
With a last, lingering glance, Rodolphus eased himself off the bed, careful not to make any sudden, jarring motion that would wake Bella. The carpeting tickled at his feet as he stepped onto the floor -- it was ridiculously long, like some animal's pelt. Lucius had had it installed in the fall after Rodolphus and Bella's last visit. Rodolphus still thought it was a concession to overwhelming Muggle fads -- but it did feel rather nice on his feet.
He padded across the room, shielding his eyes from the sun with the back of his hand, and shut the doors to the terrace, pulling close both the curtains and the heavy damask drapes. The bedroom was plunged into shadows, all tinged a darker shade of the burgundy of the drapes. There was no point in waking Bella any sooner than necessary.
Rodolphus wiped at his eyes, and tried to blink away the afterimage of the sun and the fiercely bright light that danced across his field of vision like elf fire. He held his arms out in front of him and began to slowly cross the room. The dim light made it difficult to see where he was going, and Rodolphus didn't want to bash his toes into any of Lucius' heavy, antique Louis XIV furniture.
When he reached the bed, he paused. Bella was sleeping soundly, no doubt, and he had no wish to wake her -- especially not today. But-
Rodolphus knelt on the floor beside her, and brushed a hand over her mussed hair. He leant in close and set a gentle kiss on her brow.
As he pulled back, she twitched and made an odd huffing noise under her breath. For a tense moment, Rodolphus feared that he'd woken her, but she then rolled over and began to snore softly. He rose to his feet. With any luck, she would still be sleeping when he was finished with his shower. He stepped lightly around the furniture, his eyesight having returned to normal, and entered the bathroom, clicking the heavy, oaken doors shut behind him.
He reached for the matchbox on the plant stand near the door. Rodolphus circled the room, lighting a few key wall sconces and lamps. While a set of six tall narrow windows dominated the far wall, they were facing the south and at the moment did not provide enough light to see by -- at least not enough that Rodolphus felt comfortable with. The bathroom, like much of that which belonged to Lucius Malfoy, was rather over-decorated and tasteless, tiled in gilded white marble and obviously intended to emulate a Roman bath.
He bypassed the large, deep tub sunk into the middle of the room and stepped into the small, glass-walled shower. Rodolphus shut the door and tugged at the gilt chain that hung below the shower head.
Blissfully hot water sprayed down onto him. It was needle-sharp, almost scalding, and felt utterly wonderful. Rodolphus turned slowly beneath the spray, letting it jet over his entire body. He sighed in contentment as it massaged away his minor aches and sluiced the last dregs of sleep from his mind. There was no soap within reach, but as the water did have the tell-tale scent, Rodolphus knew that it had been charmed to magic away any dirt, grime or other filth.
Rodolphus stood under the water until his skin was flushed, the bathroom filled with steam -- and the heat of the water made him feel slightly faint. He gave the chain another yank and stepped out of the shower. A few of the candles he'd lit had gone out, likely from the steam.
He grabbed a towel from one of the benches lining the room and knotted it loosely 'round his waist as he walked back to the bedroom. He kept his pace slow and steady to avoid slipping on the now-slick marble. He opened the door to see Bella kneeling on the bed, linens puddled around her legs. In the relative darkness, stripped of the golden radiance the morning rays of sun had given her, she was pale, her eyes sunken, her skin drawn.
She wasn't smiling.
"Good morning," he said.
The corners of her lips twitched up, almost imperceptibly, and then sunk back into a frown.
Rodolphus dropped his towel to the floor and slowly circled their bed, picking up his clothes from the day before from the scattered heaps on the floor. He made to gather hers as well, but she only shook her head, so he left then where they'd fallen.
He sat on the corner of the bed and dressed quickly. He could feel her eyes upon him. When he stood, she spoke, her voice still husky from sleep.
"I'm staying here today."
Rodolphus looked back at her and nodded. "Are you sure?"
He took a deep breath. "I only ask because-"
"I know." Her voice was gentle. As if he were the one who needed comforting. As if he were the one who had lost as she had. "I want to be alone. I don't want to run into-"
"Narcissa," Rodolphus completed quietly.
Narcissa, who was four months pregnant with her first child. A boy, Lucius had announced proudly a month ago. The invitation had been Narcissa's idea, and she had kindly stayed out of the way while Rodolphus and Bella had been at the Malfoy estate. While the house was large, it simply wasn't big enough for two sisters to completely avoid one another. Rodolphus remembered vividly the awkward tea they had shared Friday afternoon.
"You'll get the run of the house," Bella added, a real smile on her face for the first time in many a day.
He sighed. "How lucky for me."
That brought another smile.
Rodolphus watched her. "I wanted to name him after your father," he said finally.
That smile slid effortlessly from her face. She looked away. "As did I."
It was still sobering, even now, days after the fact, to see her with her belly flat, the swells and curves of pregnancy smoothed out as if it had all never been. This was the third they had lost, and Rodolphus still found it hard to accept. Hard not to be angry at something, someone -- though the Healers always told them that sometimes these things happened.
Rodolphus leaned forward and held her, briefly, and she clung to him with as much force.
They released one another at the same moment, and Rodolphus took a step back.
"I'll see you at sunset," she told him solemnly.
She shut the door behind him when he left, but Rodolphus did not hear the familiar click of a Locking Charm. He stared at it, at the glint of raspberry-pink light coming through the keyhole. It was a marvel how much she trusted his informal word -- she had demanded, in fact, that they swear no oaths, that their promise be bound only by themselves and not by any spell or magic.
Rodolphus headed down to the kitchens.
He passed no one on his way down there, which was no surprise given the hour, but he was grateful for it nevertheless.
He shooed out Lucius' snivelling House-Elf, made himself a cup of tea, and settled down at the table to read the /Sunday Prophet/, frowning over the morning headlines.
The door to the kitchen banged open. Rodolphus looked up -- and scowled. Staggering into the room, face half-hidden by his filthy hair, was Lucius Malfoy's latest paramour. Rodolphus had not bothered to learn the boy's name. Lucius went through these little playthings so fast this new boy would be out on his ear in less than a week.
The boy stopped once he reached the counter, pushed his dark hair out of his face, and returned Rodolphus' scowl. "What in bloody hell are you doing here?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I just saw-" The boy's scowl spread into a smirk, his face lighting up with vicious delight. "Except I didn't, if you're here."
Rodolphus didn't like the look in his eyes. "I repeat: What are you talking about?"
The boy's smile grew wider. "You don't know?"
The boy looked away and furrowed his brow, as if he were pondering something. "Answer me this, first-"
"Why do you and your lovely wife never spend Sundays together?"
Rodolphus pressed his lips together in a hard, thin line. "I fail to see what business it is of yours-"
"Answer my questions, and I'll tell you what I know-"
"You know nothing-"
"You wouldn't still be here if that were true."
Rodolphus bit back a curse. The bastard. He was right. "How do you know we spend Sundays apart?" he asked.
The boy shrugged and opened the icebox to take out a half-full bottle of the Hebridean sparkling water Lucius drank. He unscrewed the cap and took a swig. "I notice things," he replied.
"Oh, yes. You've been here for a little over a week -- and this isn't the first time I've holidayed with you two. Every day, I would see the two of you together, her hanging off your arm. Every day, of course, save Sundays. It got me to thinking." Another shrug. "I asked around. It's not something new. The two of you have been doing this since- your wedding day, at least."
The malevolent light came back to the boy's eyes. "Why, then?"
Rodolphus watched the boy for a moment. "A trade. I tell you why, and you tell me what you know."
"I want your word."
The boy stuck out his hand. "You have it. My word as a wizard."
They shook. A wizard's word was as binding as any magical contract. Rodolphus would soon know what the boy was hiding.
"We do spend Sundays apart, and have done so since we were married. You were right on that account."
The boy smirked.
Rodolphus shook his head. "But it's not for any nefarious purpose, as you seem to believe. We are only maintaining an old family tradition."
"Hmph. Hers or yours?"
"Hers. Her parents did this as well. Bellatrix says that it's what kept them together for so long."
The boy rolled his eyes. "I don't see how that could work."
Rodolphus laughed. "Clearly, boy, you've never been married."
The boy ran a thumb over the raised dragons carved onto his bottle, scowling. "I still don't see how it would work. I've had other- partners, and I've never wanted to spend time away from them-"
"A dalliance is not the same thing as a marriage."
"I'm sure they weren't. What Bella and I have is- forever. We made vows to that effect. Yours- weren't. They were temporary. If ever you choose to marry, you'll understand."
The boy looked at him askance. "/Forever/? Really? You believe that?"
Rodolphus ignored the doubts that settled heavily into his guts at the boy's words. He narrowed his eyes at the boy. "Yes," he replied. "It is."
The boy laughed softly.
"Why do you find that so hard to believe?" he snapped.
The boy took another sip of his water. "Because your wife doesn't."
Numbness and fury swirled within him. Rodolphus took a step forward, fists balled. "What?"
"You heard me."
The boy pointed a finger in the general direction of the East Wing, where Rodolphus and Bella's rooms were. "/She's/ not alone. I took a peek a few minutes ago, to confirm my hypothesis. There was a man with her. I thought he was you-"
Rodolphus roughly grabbed the boy by his shoulders, and slammed him up against a wall. The glass bottle slid from the boy's fingers, and hit the floor, unbroken, spilling a puddle of bubbling, carbonated water at their feet. "His name," Rodolphus snarled. "Now."
The boy had the nerve to not even look afraid. His grin only grew wider at Rodolphus' anger, as if he had expected it. "I couldn't tell. I wasn't able to see his face. I could only see the back of his dressing gown. If you don't believe me, you're quite welcome to go see for yourself. I certainly haven't taken a patent out on voyeurism."
The boy's grin faded, his expression darkening. "Now. If you would please put me down."
"Or what?" Rodolphus retorted mockingly, bringing his face closer to the boy's. "You'll tell Lucius?"
The boy's upper lip curled into a sneer. "Yes. I will."
Rodolphus released his hold, and stepped back, breathing heavily. The boy steadied himself on a nearby counter, and bend to pick up his bottle.
Rodolphus levelled a finger at the boy. "This will go no further than the two of us. You will tell no one."
The boy rubbed at his upper arm and glared. "Why would I bother?"
Rodolphus stared at him for a long moment, scowling at the smugness he saw in the boy's eyes, and then stalked out of the room.
Faint laughter sounded behind him. Rodolphus nearly managed to convince himself that it was all in his imagination.
The boy's words clung to his thoughts like lead weights.
Rodolphus paced the length of Narcissa's rose garden, up and down the little cobbled walkway. None of the plants were in bloom yet, and the only spots of colour among the greens and browns were the few early buds -- tiny, tight things no bigger than a fig. The air smelt of rent earth.
He could see the house no matter where he stood. He could see the French doors leading to their rooms, still flung open from last night's bout of mad, grief-induced passion. The damask drapes were still pulled tightly shut. Like a girl spreading her legs to show off her chastity belt.
Behind those drapes, a stranger dallied with his wife. He had the boy's word on that, bound by the power of a wizard's oath.
Except, for Rodolphus, it wasn't enough.
His mind knew it for a truth -- but his heart damned it a lie. He needed proof, and something learnt second-hand through Lucius Malfoy's paramour simply was not enough. He needed more.
Rodolphus stopped walking and brought his hands to his face.
He needed to see it for himself.
He remembered the keyhole in the door. It was small, and the corridor beyond their rooms had always been dark. He could take the briefest peek, and she would never know.
"But I would," he murmured. "But I would."
It was a treacherous dilemma, one that he did not know if he would be able to resolve -- either live with the knowledge that he wouldn't be able to trust his own wife, or break his own word to her and rupture an agreement that they had held since their wedding day.
Rodolphus dropped his hands to his sides and sighed. His own culpability he could shoulder easily, and if such was the price of preserving his marriage, he knew easily that he would be more than willing to spend the rest of his life paying for his breach of Bella's trust.
But if he did nothing- The doubts, sowed so recently, were already giving fruit, dark, bitter thoughts that ate at him. The thought of another man -- inside -- Bella even now filled him with a cold, clear rage. If he did nothing, it would only grow, and fester, as time went on.
Penance he could bear, and it would be no great hardship, but his uncertainty about Bella's faithfulness would destroy their marriage, and them both.
Rodolphus closed his eyes for a brief moment as he let the reality of that sink in. Not such a treacherous dilemma after all, he reflected ruefully. It had, really, made itself.
He looked to the house. Now. While his resolve still held.
He gave the still-green rosebushes one final glance, and set back to the house.
He passed no one -- not even the boy -- as he walked down dark corridors towards his rooms. He did not want anyone to see, lest word get back to Bellatrix. The fact that she did not know was the only reason why he stayed his course.
Rodolphus came to a halt only a few paces from the door. He approached slowly, keeping his tread light. He could hear voices coming from within, too faint to be understood -- let alone recognise. If he tilted his head to the right, he could see a point of golden light shining through the keyhole. When he'd left that morning, the light had been the same colour as the damask drapes -- Bella, he realised, had lit the lamps after he'd left to welcome her lover.
He ran an absent hand over the door's painted surface. It was heavily lacquered and felt smooth beneath his touch. In the gloom, the white paint looked an almost sickly grey.
Rodolphus knelt down before the keyhole almost reverentially, like a man at an altar. He held his breath. The voices were slightly clearer now -- and were punctuated by a loud, familiar laugh. It was Bella's.
He closed his left eye and brought his right to the keyhole. Rodolphus set his hands upon the door to steady himself. He blinked, leaned forward, and stared.
From this vantage point, he could see their bed and not much besides. It was empty and did not look to have been used recently -- it had been made before Rodolphus had arrived. That thought brought him no comfort, though he knew it should have. Simply because there was no proof that Bella and the stranger within had coupled today did not mean that no such proof existed -- or that the affair was not sexual.
Rodolphus watched, and waited.
A woman, clad in only a loosely-knotted dressing gown, stepped into view. He couldn't see anything above her neck -- but he did not need to. She was unmistakeably Bella.
She was speaking -- though he still could not make out the words -- accenting what she said with broad, wild gestures, as she addressed the other person in the room.
It was a side of her he rarely saw. Rodolphus was so used to his image of Bella as a proud, controlled woman that to see her like this, so unrestrained, was rather a shock.
Another voice, far more measured and controlled -- too faint to hear let alone place -- would interrupt her every so often. There was a haunting familiarity to it, but Rodolphus could not put his finger on who it reminded him of.
Who was this man, Rodolphus wondered. Bella when angry -- on the few occasions when he'd seen her truly lose her temper -- did not truckle with being interrupted. It only made her angrier. But when this stranger did it, it seemed to placate her, to calm her.
Bella gave her hair a shake as she laughed throatily, and stepped out of sight again.
Rodolphus exhaled raggedly, and shifted his weight from one knee to the other. His throat was dry. So far, so good. Neither of them seemed to have any clue he was out here, and he wanted that to remain so.
Now, there was only time. All he had to do was wait. Eventually, the stranger would show himself, and Rodolphus would have a face, if not a name.
The voices became more subdued. The conversation must have drifted to less a controversial topic. Laughter sounded from within the room, both Bella's and the stranger's. Rodolphus scowled. He could almost feel his anger growing, as if it were something separate from himself, alive and aware.
Bellatrix stepped back within the keyhole's range. He could still hear her laughing. A man -- the stranger a stranger no longer -- followed her.
Rodolphus froze, his heart still in his chest and his breath lodged in his throat. He could do nothing but stare. He did not need to see this man's face to recognise him, because he already knew. He had known the instant he had laid eyes upon him who this was, with a complete and utter sickening clarity.
The lean frame, the pale skin, drawn across bones and scaled like a serpent's-
Rodolphus watched, horror rising within him, as the Dark Lord embraced Bella.
The Dark Lord. It was the Dark Lord who was Bellatrix' secret lover.
And she kissed him with a fervour he had never seen, barely recognising it as something his wife would do.
Rodolphus rose shakily to his feet and staggered down the corridor, putting as much distance between himself and his rooms as he could.
Outside, he made his way to the Thirsty Fountain, a large, elaborate stone sundial that faced the western wing of the house. He sat down on one of the twelve stone blocks that circled the central carving -- a large, upright sculpture that resembled a hookah pipe -- and inhaled deeply. He ran a hand over his face. He'd chosen this spot because he knew he would not be able to see his rooms from here. He did not need a further reminder of what he'd seen.
This was worse than he ever could have imagined.
Were it any other man, Rodolphus would not have hesitated to challenge him to a wizard's duel, for his honour and his wife's, right then and there.
But this was the Dark Lord -- no ordinary man -- and that made things very difficult. Rodolphus had sworn an oath to this man, an oath that was as binding as his vows with Bella. He was caught.
He was caught, worst of all, in a web of his own making. He had sworn oaths of loyalty to both of them -- very different oaths, but at the core they were very much the same. And very much as binding.
There was no way he could rupture one without rupturing the other. And he knew what the consequences would be if he did. He could remember -- all too vividly -- what had happened to men who had questioned or challenged the Dark Lord. Rodolphus shuddered at a memory of screams of torment and pain, worse than anything done by a Cruciatus curse. It was not the fate he wished for himself. Challenging the Dark Lord was not worth that.
Nor was challenging Bella.
All he could do was- live with it, if living it could be called. His would be a half-life, empty and cold. And if Bella did remark upon it... He knew she would mistake his despair for grief at the loss of their son. It would also, he realised with an almost clinical detachment, give him enough time to turn this horrid numbness into a shield rather than a burden. To lock up his emotions so that he didn't let on that he knew too much.
Though he doubted it would make a difference to Bella whether he knew or not.
Her laughter had been a shock -- he wondered how much of her grief had been a sham. He wondered if she had ever-
No. No, he would not venture down that path. He did not dare even think what might lie at the end.
Rodolphus stared out at the forests surrounding the Malfoy estate. He would remember this day, always; the shape and the feel of his heart dying would be burnt forever into his memory.
He returned to their rooms after the sun had set.
Bellatrix was sitting at the vanity, brushing out her hair. She was wearing the same dressing gown she had had on- earlier. Rodolphus shut the door behind himself, and she looked up, setting the brush down.
He remembered buying it for her, as a betrothal gift, one of many.
"Hullo, wife," he said.
"Hello," she replied.
Her eyes were cool as she watched him, but there was an odd intensity to her gaze, one he had seen from time to time -- but only rarely, and never as a result of anything he had ever done, no matter what he had tried.
He thought he had an inkling now of why that was.