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Keeping Appearances by TreacleTart
Chapter 1: Calculated Risk
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“Bellatrix!” Druella Black shouted up the stairs. “Come here, please. Your father and I have something we’d like to discuss with you.”
A young, slender woman appeared at the top of the stairs. Long ringlets of midnight black hair cascaded down her back and a tight corseted dress was synched tightly around her midsection, enhancing her buxom figure. At first glance, she might’ve been considered attractive, but her heavily lidded eyes gave her a malevolent appearance that kept her from being a classic beauty.
“What is it, mother?” she asked, striding down the steps, like a princess entering a royal ball. The polite smile that she wore barely masked her annoyance at being interrupted.
“Your father is waiting in the drawing room. We’ll discuss it there. Now, hurry along. You know he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
If Bellatrix cared about her mother’s words, it didn’t show. She took her time coming down the stairs and continued to move through the halls at her own leisurely pace.
Stepping into the drawing room, she saw her father seated in his favorite spot by the fireplace. He held an old pipe in his hand and puffed little spirals of smoke into the air. Bellatrix wrinkled her nose at the foul smell, but did not comment on it.
“Father,” she said, inclining her head with the slightest of movements as she greeted him. Taking her seat in one of the cushioned chairs, she folded her hands into her lap and looked at him expectantly.
“Bella, as you know, your time at Hogwarts is quickly coming to an end and your mother and I are wondering what you plan to do with your future. You have yet to secure an engagement and it would be quite scandalous for a woman of your stature to leave school without having a husband lined up to care for you.”
An ugly sneer spread across Bellatrix’s face. “I don’t need anyone to take care of me. All that I want is to serve the Dark Lord to the best of my ability and a husband will do nothing, but get in the way.”
Her father’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Be that as it may, as a lady of the house Black, you are required to make a proper pairing. If it was solely up to me, I’d pick a suitor for you and be done with the whole ordeal, but your mother insists that I give you the option of finding someone first.”
A loud cackle ricocheted from her mouth. “What do you think I am? Some sort of cow for you to auction off to the highest bidder?”
“You are my daughter and I will do with you as I please. If I command you to marry, you will do so.”
Scoffing loudly, Bellatrix said, “And if I refuse?”
“I think you’d find that would be quite the mistake.” Her father leaned forward slightly, his voice barely above a whisper. Bellatrix had to strain to hear him. “I know you think you’re untouchable now that you associate yourself with the Death Eaters, but I assure you, if you test my patience you will rue the day that you chose to disobey me.”
Bellatrix studied the man before her intently. He was frail and age was taking a toll on his body, but the threat of power still loomed over him. She felt certain that in a duel she could easily beat him, even kill him if need be, but for now she thought it best to allow him his illusion of power. “Fine. If you require a marriage of me, I think that Rudolphus Lestrange would be a suitable choice.”
A look of surprise crossed her father’s face. It was clear that he expected more of a protest. Regaining his composure, he said, “Very well. I will speak with his father this week and see if we can’t come to some sort of arrangement. I plan to have you married off by the end of this summer one way or another.”
“As you wish, father.” She waited for a moment to see if anything else was expected of her. When it was clear that he had nothing else to say, she turned from the room, graceful in her fury. Truthfully, she found the idea of marriage insulting to her wealth of talent. The only man she wanted to serve was The Dark Lord, but she knew her father would persist. It was much easier to marry a man like Rudolphus who she could walk all over.
Upon entering the hallway, she was stopped by her mother, who for once in her life seemed to be attempting to smile. “I knew you’d come to your senses, Bella. Your father thought he’d have to use the Imperius Curse to get you to marry, but I knew you’d hear logic. You and Rudolphus will make a smart match.”
Not wanting her mother to have any modicum of satisfaction, Bellatrix simply turned and walked up the stairs, leaving her mother standing in the hallway, gaping at her like an overgrown guppy. The image of it left her chortling all the way up the stairs.
Once in her room, Bellatrix thought about what The Dark Lord might think of her match. Her greatest fear was that he wouldn’t take her seriously now that she was to be a bride. Perhaps he’d believe that she wanted to stay at home and pop out little brats like a proper Pureblood wife. She knew she had to make it clear that her place was at his side, fighting in battles like the other Death Eaters.
“Bella,” said Narcissa, ripping her out of her thoughts. “Mum’s just told me the news. How could you do it?”
“Do what?” Bellatrix quirked her eyebrows at her sister.
Narcissa stamped her foot with impatience. “You know what! How could you agree to marry Rudolphus? You can’t stand him. You’ve told me so yourself. And now suddenly you want to spend the rest of your life with him?”
“You would do well to learn something from my actions, Cissy. I hate Rudolphus. I think he’s a coward who has no spine and his fervor for the Dark Lord will never match mine. In fact, he should consider himself lucky that a woman of my stature would have him. He certainly couldn’t do any better.”
“Then why are you marrying him?”
Laughter tore from deep within Bellatrix’s gut. “Because he comes from a respectable pureblood family and he’s a loyal follower of the Dark Lord. According to mother, we will make a smart match.”
“Don’t give me that codswallop. I want the truth. You don’t ever do anything you don’t want to. Why are you doing this? I know it can’t be for love.” Narcissa asked, her voice rising with annoyance. She fidgeted like an angry child, tugging at one of her long locks of hair.
“Love is a foolish notion, Cissy. Marriage is nothing more than a business arrangement and I plan to set myself up the best that I can. On the surface, Rudolphus looks respectable, a proud wizard, but underneath the bravado, he’s quite feeble. I’ll be able to walk all over him. As long as he doesn’t try to control me or expect me to bear him children, then it should work out just fine.”
“But how are you going to spend your life with someone you hate? You’ll be miserable!”
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow at her. “Rudolphus is a loyal lieutenant for the Dark Lord and marrying him will make me look even more devoted. All that matters to me is moving through the ranks so I can best serve my lord. If this will do it, that’s all I care about. Besides, if he gives me any trouble, I’ll just kill him. We all know that I’m certainly capable of that.”
Narcissa’s face fell and worry knit her eyebrows together, but no words left her mouth.
Finding her concern amusing, Bellatrix turned to her and said, “This is all about keeping up appearances, Cissy. Nothing else.”
This story was written for the Twisted Zodiac Challenge. The character I was assigned was Bellatrix Lestrange, the zodiac was Gemini, and the negative characteristic was superficiality. To be fair, as soon as I got the prompt, I knew what I wanted to do with it, but I’ve honestly struggled quite a bit to put it into words. I’m not quite sure why.
Anyway, I’d love to hear any feedback you might have on this, so feel free to make use of the little grey box below. Thank you as always for reading!