Part the Eighth
Haesel ducked her head, wishing she were invisible as the other partygoers stopped waltzing to stare at her and Marvolo with wide eyes and dropped jaws. But those three words, which his magic ratified, “I love you,” consumed her. She wouldn’t allow anyone to think she was ashamed of being in his arms—not when it was the only place she ever wanted to be. So Haesel took a deep breath and raised her head, locking gazes with him as she desperately tried to pretend they weren’t the sole focus of everyone present.
His hand on her waist was firm and unmoving, leading her from one step to the next. Their bodies moved in harmony, scandalously close. There would be furor, scandal, gossip . . . and she found that she couldn’t care.
Why should she have to pretend that she didn’t love him? Why should she have to lie and imply that any other man would have a chance at her heart? Surely that would be crueler than destroying all of their hopes in one fell swoop.
I’m done, her mind whispered. I’m sick of all the pretense. Logically, she should be angry with him, should be downright pissed that he had dared to lead her out of the antechamber after asking her to trust him. However, all she felt was an overwhelming sense of relief. The hiding, the sneaking about—it was done. He had stolen the burden from her, not allowing her the chance to object, as she surely would have done. Having the choice taken from her was so much simpler.
Haesel laid her cheek against his chest, over his heart. The clamor in the ballroom rose in volume to an almost deafening pitch. His thumb brushed her waist reassuringly, before he tugged her that much closer. Their fronts were completely plastered together, as if someone had cast a sticking charm on them that they had no desire to cancel.
Every shift of their bodies bespoke a singular truth. Lady Haesel was, obviously, no longer available.
The violins and cellos thrummed with one final note, and then the orchestra fell silent. The lack of music must have shocked the guests, because they all shut up in unison.
Marvolo released her, his hand trailing daringly across her hip as he stepped backward. He bowed to her, quite deeply, and then kissed the back of the hand he still held in his own. “My lady.” The verbal affirmation of his claim before others sent a thrill of excitement through her.
Haesel picked up the hem of her dress with her free hand and sank into a respectful curtsey, eyes staring up at him from under her lashes the entire time. “My lord,” she acknowledged.
Sharp, precise footsteps echoed through the ballroom. They came from behind her. Marvolo stared over her shoulder, a challenge and defiance written on his face. She knew who it was before he reached her and could only pray to Morgana that he, of all people, would understand.
A tan hand curled around her arm and lifted her to her feet. She reluctantly obeyed the implied command to remove her hand from Marvolo’s grasp; their magic sparked painfully when they parted. “Haesel, darling, go with Henry and Zach. It seems your mother and I need to have a conversation with Lord Slytherin.”
Lord Slytherin? Marvolo was Lord Slytherin? Why hadn’t he—?
“I meant what I said, my lady,” Marvolo whispered, alluding to his recent love confession. “Every single word.”
Marvolo was Lord Slytherin!
Marvolo was Lord Slytherin!
No matter how she repeated it in her mind, it made little sense. He didn’t act like a member of the oligarchy. He teased her, flaunted propriety, caressed her with his magic, and found sneaky ways to be exactly where she would be, when she would be there. Marvolo didn’t act like a snobbish aristocrat. He acted like, well, Marvolo.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe he wants to be loved for who he is, not what he is, just like you told Henry and Zach, her mind whispered. Haesel was vaguely aware of Zach and Henry each taking one of her arms and escorting her from the ballroom, but she was too lost in thought to pay attention to where they were going.
“I’m not crazy, right?” she mumbled. “Dad called Marvolo ‘Lord Slytherin’, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did,” Henry agreed. There was a knowing tone to his voice, as if he had suspected that was the case. But then, he had been the one to suggest Marvolo might be Lord Slytherin days ago. She was the one who had discounted his words and found examples for why that couldn’t possibly be true.
“That time in the club, he all but confessed that he came back because he was tempted by rumors of me,” she said dazedly, his words floating through her head with deeper meaning now.
Could she blame him for that? Could she truly blame him for wanting to investigate a witch who was touted as the most powerful of her generation? His magic was immense and had a lonely flavor to it the first time they had met at the club. It faded over the past week and a half, as they grew closer. She healed something in him, and he shielded her.
But then, wasn’t it her fault that he returned to England in the first place?
Haesel could still hear his words from their meeting at Malfoy Manor. ‘You called,’ he had said. Her magic had searched him out all the way to his posting and begged for his touch and protection. Was that answer enough?
Regardless of why he had come, or what his intentions had been, or if he had originally planned to use her to create heirs—she now knew the truth.
I love you. He had said those three words, honest and heartfelt, and her magic declared that they weren’t false.
Chuckling bitterly, Haesel shook her head and gave a rueful smile. “So this was your checkmate, Marvolo. Bravo,” she said sarcastically, heart aching. In a twisted way, she couldn’t help but applaud his ingenuity. If she had discovered his true identity before he had confessed his love, before she knew of a surety that he cared for her, and not her title or power, she might have turned her back on him. Vowing she would have no other didn’t mean she had to have him, after all. Only that she couldn’t take anyone except him as her lord.
However, she felt . . . used, almost. He had had so many opportunities to tell her who he was, and he never had. He always avoided the subject, instead of just being upfront with her. Heir Draco, for all his annoying moments of following her about like a pup, was at least forthright in his name and interest, as were the other suitors.
Marvolo had likely read her that first time they met, when he called to her in The Golden Fleece. When she answered, he must’ve realized she liked mysteries and was curious, and he had used her nature against her.
Marvolo had used her own personality as a weapon against her. That hurt. Morgana, the pain in her chest was crippling.
Hands pressed firmly on her shoulders, and Haesel sat down. She blinked twice and then glanced around. Ah, she was in Zach’s personal lounge. It was where they usually spent time when she was at his home. Haesel kicked off her shoes, hitched up her skirts, and curled up in the chair, resting her head on the arm. Zach knelt before her and put his hands on her knees.
“So, Lord Slytherin managed to catch you in his net,” said Zach.
“So it would seem,” she replied.
Henry’s fingers tightened on her shoulders as he leaned over the back of the chair, his chin propped on her hair. She wondered if the feathers were tickling his face. “How do you feel about that?” Henry asked.
She tried to shrug nonchalantly. “I know I should probably care and feel betrayed . . .” Even as the words left her mouth, she couldn’t deny that she felt like she had been cursed from behind by a friend.
“But you don’t,” Zach finished for her. He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, like I’ll believe that blatant lie. Instead of feeling righteous indignation and cursing his bits off, or giving your maiden’s kiss to someone else to spite him, or eloping with some dashing wizard, you’re curling up in a miserable ball on my chair and saying ‘Bravo’ with a scary amount of bitterness. There’s no chance at all that you’ll convince me you don’t feel betrayed.”
Haesel flinched. Perhaps she could distract them from talking about it as she fought to absorb the blow to her heart. “And who, exactly, am I supposed to give my maiden’s kiss to, huh? Kissing Henry would be more than disturbing. Besides, he’s already been given a maiden’s kiss.” The words were jocular, but she didn’t immediately discount Zach’s suggestions for retribution. True, they were a little over-the-top, but surely a lesser type of revenge was acceptable.
Henry spluttered, but Zach only glanced at him mischievously before focusing back on her. “I’m not that easily distracted, Haesel. I’m sure more than one witch has offered the Golden God a kiss.” He winked exaggeratedly. “Besides, you could give it to me.”
Tilting her head, Haesel observed her best friend. The thought had crossed her mind a few times over the years. “Would you truly want it?” she asked. He was her best friend, and kissing him wouldn’t be the worst decision she’d ever made; Zach had never betrayed her, which was something Marvolo couldn’t honestly say now.
I love you.
“Haesel!” It seemed she was making a habit of scandalizing her brother.
“Silence, Henry. This doesn’t concern you,” she admonished. This was between her and Zach. And Marvolo, her mind added.
Zach’s eyes bore into her, as if weighing whether or not she wanted the truth. It was an absent gesture, she knew, because he never offered her anything but the truth. He was unfailingly honest—to the point of discourtesy, on occasion. Whereas Marvolo apparently avoided the truth unless he thought it would aid him. She winced. All right, so that was a little harsh. “Yes, but not because I’m in love with you. I’m not.”
She breathed a quiet sigh of relief. “Then why would you want it?” Haesel asked.
His hands clenched on her knees, and his eyes burned with various emotions that darted too quickly for her to identify. “Because even if he loves you, that bastard lied to you, Haesel! He proved he was a diplomat by skipping around the issue and letting you draw false assumptions. He lied. To you.”
She couldn’t disagree with anything Zach had just said. Marvolo had lied to her; a lie of omission was still a lie. And Merlin, her chest hurt terribly.
“You’ve chosen him, haven’t you?” Zach demanded.
Haesel nodded, remembering the vow she had made before she learned his identity. “I have.”
“And both of your magics acknowledge that, right?” He leaned forward a little, lips curled in a smirk.
“Yes, of course,” she replied. Their magics had been entwined almost constantly over the past few days. She could feel him even when they were on separate sides of the country, as he had felt her since she was just a young girl getting her wand.
The smirk on Zach’s face was truly wicked, his magic crackling with devilish delight. “Then let me kiss you, Haesel. Let him know that you don’t appreciate being lied to. Grant me your first kiss.”
“Absolutely not!” Henry said, glaring at Zach with disdain. “She’ll be betrothed to you.”
“Not if he kisses me,” Haesel corrected. She closed her eyes and considered Zach’s offer, ignoring the tight squeeze of Henry’s hands. If Zach kissed her, it wouldn’t count as her maiden’s kiss; that had to be initiated by her. She could, realistically, give Zach her first kiss without it having any profound magical effect—except for the minor backlash and severe jealously Marvolo was sure to feel.
The honorable part of her said she should save her first kiss for Marvolo. Unfortunately, for it, the rest of her was still upset that Marvolo had been lying to her. His love meant a great deal, and helped assuage the feeling of betrayal, but not all of it. This would be a non-damaging and minor way to show Marvolo how that felt. She needed him to understand that she would expect full honesty from her lord, and this would be a quick and brutal method to achieve that goal.
She would answer him in kind: a betrayal for a betrayal.
Decision made, Haesel propped her chin on one hand. “Very well, Zach. You may kiss me.”
“You’re crazy!” Henry snapped as he stomped a few steps away. “He’s going to be so angry, Haesel. Livid, even. Just the thought of Iolanthe kissing someone else makes me homicidal.”
“Ah, the littlest Malfoy. Good catch,” Zach teased, a smug smile on his face. “I think your children will be the golden godlings.” He guffawed, and Haesel couldn’t help but join in at the fiery blush that covered Henry’s face.
“You two make me so—urgh!”
“My kiss, Zach?” Haesel demanded imperiously.
Still chuckling, he smiled at her. “But of course, Princess.” He reached forward and trailed his fingers down her cheek, before cupping her face gently.
“Just so you know, I’m telling Lord Slytherin I was against this!” Henry called before turning his back on them.
“Close your eyes, Haesel.” She did, feeling anticipation and trepidation. She still had time to back out, but her hurt pride wouldn’t let her. If they didn’t start off their bonded life as equals, it would fall apart, despite their compatibility. She had to make Marvolo understand. By bonding with him, she would be giving him everything . . . and she couldn’t spend her entire life waiting for another betrayal.
Zach’s lips were soft, moist, and warm. She felt safe, cared for, and content. There were no fireworks, or passion, or desire, but for a first kiss, it left a good impression. Kissing wasn’t something to fear.
When he leaned back, her eyelashes fluttered against her cheeks before she stared at him. The smile on Zach’s face was gentle and caring, but only that of a dear friend.
Marvolo’s magic, which had been tangling with her own as it usually did, had fallen still the moment Zach’s lips touched hers. She wondered if he were standing somewhere, mouth hanging open, a sentence having died on his tongue as he felt it.
A slight headache began to form, and a horrid, mischievous thought appeared. She embraced it whole-heartedly. “Zach.”
“Yes?” he asked, focused entirely on her.
“Would you be a dear and brush my hair? The weight of all the baubles is giving me a headache.” She waved her wand and canceled the charm that had turned it white, leaving gleaming ebony hair in its place.
Henry groaned behind her and muttered, “Bad idea, Sis. Worse than your last one.”
Zach hesitated, as if the thought of not only seeing, but touching and brushing her hair, was almost too improper and intimate. “You’re sure?” he asked carefully.
“Quite,” Haesel replied. Marvolo’s magic was still silent, but this would, without a doubt, garner an intense reaction from him. She placed one hand over her aching chest and closed her eyes.
Chuckling roughly, Zach summoned his hairbrush into the room from an adjoining bathroom. “You are a cruel woman. Remind me to never piss you off,” he said before starting to gently tug the feathers and pearls from her hair. “Absolutely stunning, Haesel.”
“Thank you, Zach.” She appreciated the compliment a great deal. Her hair was, after all, her crowning glory. She had seen Marvolo staring appreciatively at her hair several times since they had met, and she knew he would loathe the thought of another wizard brushing it.
When it tumbled down like an obsidian waterfall, and Zach buried his hands in it, Marvolo’s magic went wildly crazy.
You lied to me, her magic accused. You made me feel like this.
* * *
Marvolo couldn’t help but smirk as he was led from the dance floor. Haesel—his darling, cunning, ambitious, honorable, beautiful Haesel—was as good as his. No marriage dates, no dancing with other wizards, even ones related to her, nothing. She was his—mind, body, heart, and soul.
And he was hers. Utterly and completely.
He walked beside Charlus; his old school chum was technically leading, but Marvolo, as Lord Slytherin, had seniority. Behind them walked Lady Potter and behind her, both Heir Potter and Lady Isadore. It seemed a full Potter-style interrogation was in order. The only person missing was Master Henry, who had gone off with his sister.
When they finally reached a study, Marvolo swept imperiously through the doors, turning when he reached the desk, pressing his hands casually to the front of it so he was leaning backward. He remembered adopting a similar pose when he first came face to face with his future bride.
Charlus sighed as he entered the room, the Potters making up a semi-circle around him. An old memory stirred in Marvolo’s consciousness. Decades ago, his petty ‘followers’ had done the same when he was still a student at Hogwarts. But he had taken a different path since then, one that had led him to here, to this moment . . . to Haesel.
“So. You just had to stake a claim, didn’t you?” James Potter’s form was barely restrained as he glared at Marvolo.
“Hush, darling,” Isadore responded, wrapping her arm through her husband’s. He seemed to almost immediately deflate.
The two were a striking pair. She was petite, with a slim figure and hair so blonde it could almost be white. She was blonder and fairer of skin than any Malfoy could hope to be, belying her heritage as a Vaisey. Her eyes, though, were intelligent and polite and entirely private, and the same beautiful ice-blue shade as Haesel’s.
Haesel . . . his Haesel . . .
“Quite,” Charlus claimed as he walked over to a sideboard and poured himself a generous amount of Firewhisky. He offered a glass to Marvolo who demurred silently with a movement of his hand. Charlus only sighed before taking a healthy dose of his own. “Well, it appears Haesel is a Potter through and through, although sometimes I wish it had skipped two generations instead of merely the one.”
“Charlus,” Dorea sighed quietly.
Marvolo supposed Charlus was referring to Heir Potter’s infamous pursuit of a Mudblood, which had been fortunately unsuccessful. The Potters were known for getting what they wanted. However, just by looking at Heir Potter, Marvolo couldn’t say he looked disappointed with his lot in life. Quite the reverse, in fact.
“Right,” Charlus said, coming to face Marvolo. “First things first. Obviously there has been a blatant declaration. There’s nothing for it but bonding, I suppose, if my granddaughter was not coerced.”
“Obviously,” Marvolo sneered. “You have my word,” he added lazily as an afterthought, “as a lord.”
Charlus seemed slightly relieved at that. “There are some miracles. However, I have a few questions.”
“If I may?” James interrupted, his hand now curling over his wife’s. He was dressed as the knight from The Tales of Beedle the Bard and his lady as the witch Amata. A fitting costume, Marvolo had to admit.
James cleared his throat. “Have you ever been alone with my daughter?” he inquired, steel in his hazel gaze.
“No,” Marvolo answered succinctly. Thankfully, he could answer that honestly; a ‘yes’ might’ve resulted in a duel for Haesel’s honor. “We have always been in public, either at The Golden Fleece or at Malfoy Manor.”
“So there have been chaperones.” He looked steadily at Marvolo.
“Always witnesses in public. Appointed chaperones were not always present, but we were in clear sight in public areas.”
James scoffed, tossing his head of messy black hair. “So, in Slytherin cunning, there were no closed doors and, while people could see you if they looked, you were assured privacy.”
Marvolo didn’t deem to respond to the statement.
“I worry,” Isadore murmured quietly after several long, tense moments. “I know that we afforded you Haesel’s first marriage date out of friendship and respect, but you are the age of her grandfather. You have not aged a day. Will you, to your knowledge, have a normal wizarding lifespan despite this and, if so, will you tire of my daughter in a few decades? Oris your youth the product of some type of longevity that perhaps will allow you to remain at my daughter’s side as you should?”
Marvolo was surprised at the question. If he remembered correctly, Isadore Vaisey had been in Ravenclaw and it clearly showed. “I cannot say for certain,” he hedged after a moment. “But I assure you, whatever the case, I will remain devoted to your daughter.” He took a deep breath. “She is my equal.” It was the closest he could come to admitting to anyone but his lady that he loved her. “She will want for absolutely nothing.”
Isadore nodded sagely, a satisfied smile on her face.
“I refuse to give up the ball,” Dorea finally said, looking between her husband and Marvolo. “We’ve spent too much time planning it.”
“That can be remedied, my dear,” Charlus replied kindly. “If Lord Slytherin does not object, then it can easily become an engagement ball. There will be no loss to Potter honor.”
Potter honor. How plebian. Marvolo would have sneered if the situation weren’t so serious.
“At least the invitations are enchanted,” Dorea muttered. “It will take but a moment to have all of the invitations changed by noon tomorrow.”
“I think a statement, though, is in order for the Daily Prophet, and then of course there are the settlements.” Charlus was once again looking grave and every one of his years.
“Shall I—?” Marvolo inquired. Normally he hated being secondary in such an important conversation, but everything of import was already decided. The Potters simply needed the formalities. He had everything he wanted.
“No thank you, Lord Slytherin. It shall come from our House,” Charlus answered.
“Then I would prefer to return to my lady and perhaps claim a dance,” Marvolo stated simply.
James’s shoulders tensed, but nothing was said against the idea.
Marvolo swept out of the room and it was then, at the edge of the ballroom, that he felt it: a frisson of magic. You betrayed me. You didn’t tell me.
No, his magic cried back, and he made his way through the ballroom, Charlus at his side in a showing of solidarity. Marvolo kept his breathing in check, his face impassive so as not to show his—his—
Then he felt it. The kiss. Not a maiden’s kiss that would break the bond that would form between them, but one not forcefully stolen. A kiss, a statement of anger, a betrayal for a betrayal . . . a painful and yet gloriously Slytherin tactic.
Marvolo could not help the smile that teased the corners of his lips.
If he had had any doubt that Haesel was his equal, it was immediately swept away. Yes, he wanted her first kiss, but he had her love, her devotion, and he would have her hand, and her body and her soul. He had kissed others before: Islanders, Muggles and Mudbloods meant only for practice or a spout of entertainment, the occasional pureblood lady when he was younger and they thought, stupidly, that giving him their maiden’s kiss would make them Lady Slytherin.
No . . . only a woman capable of allowing another to kiss her after such a public pronouncement of their attachment was worthy of the title, of him, of his love, and she was waiting for him. She was angry with him.
However, as appreciative as he was of her cunning, of her imagination, of her sheer ability to hurt him, that kiss had belonged to him—not to that Smith boy who had obviously taken it. He was the only one in the room other than Haesel’s brother.
A frisson of pure hatred sped through his heart. He would kill the boy unless Haesel begged him otherwise. And she would have to beg. The more the betrayal set in, the more his blood demanded retribution.
They came to a door and Marvolo paused. He took a deep breath to calm his fraying emotions. How could one slip of a girl, even though he loved her, have so much power over him?
“If I may have a minute, I believe that my betrothed might be a little annoyed regarding my title.” It was the understatement of his life, but a necessary one. Marvolo looked at Charlus who nodded his head in assent. Dorea, James, and Isadore had clearly stayed in the ballroom instead of following them through it.
Marvolo opened the door to the most deliciously vindictive sight, which made his cunning mind sing in appreciation as his intestines curdled in pure, unadulterated possessiveness. His beautiful bride-to-be had released her hair from its charm and its bindings so that it fell in black waves around her face; and that stupid, pompous boy was brushing it. Brushing it! Only a family member or a betrothed had such a right; she had given it to a mere friend, in addition to not protesting a kiss. How dare she dishonor their love so soon after the declaration of it—not only between them, but before the whole world!
Master Henry was looking on in utter horror and perplexity, though Marvolo hardly noticed.
What had happened quickly became apparent.
“Darling,” he said, his tone full of false joy, “your point is well taken.”
“Is it?” Lady Haesel asked, arching a brow. Her ice-blue eyes were cold, unfeeling.
Zach didn’t look him in the eye, but a smirk curled his lips. He also continued to brush her hair. Jealousy rankled Marvolo’s nerves.
Marvolo stepped forward and slid his hand around the whelp’s wrist. “I believe that is my privilege. You have stolen a kiss already,” he murmured, the threat clear in his voice. “Unless you wish to know the full wrath of the Houses of Slytherin, Peverell, and Gaunt?”
A small gasp escaped from his lady’s lips as he named all of his titles. There, Marvolo could not help but think, see how I am to raise you and why I wanted your love instead of just another witch after my prestigious position.
Zach paused, a hint of fear in the turn of his lips, and then handed the brush to Marvolo, who instantly stood behind Lady Haesel and continued the ministrations. Despite his anger, he was gentle. This was his betrothed, his love; he would never hurt her—no matter how his magic roiled at her infuriating sense of Gryffindor justice.
“I did not give you leave, my lord,” she stated angrily, not turning to look at him.
Marvolo smirked. “You did when you declared me your lord but twenty minutes ago, and with your actions since. We are also now formally, though privately, engaged. Would you prefer a Yule bonding or would you like to wait until after your graduation?” His tone had turned mocking at the innocence of the subject, but his message was clear: Do not test me.
Haesel spun to face him. “You’re Lord Slytherin!”
“I did tell you I was a diplomat,” he countered, continuing to brush her hair gently. The smoothness of it was pure heaven to his fingers and he could not wait until their first private kiss, when he could sink his hands into it completely and pull her luscious lips toward his. She would kiss him willingly; it would be her maiden’s kiss. At least that had not been stolen from him! He would devour her very soul—if he had to—in that kiss to make his point.
“You lied by omission.” Her eyes were cold and yet so gloriously full of indignation that he couldn’t help but lean forward and place a kiss on her nose. The implication was obvious. You are mine. Never forget it. “Heir Smith, I suggest you leave us. Immediately, if you do not wish to be cursed given your recent transgressions against the Houses of Slytherin, Peverell, and Gaunt.” Master Henry would have to stay for chaperoning purposes, but that dreadful whelp wasn’t needed.
There was a long pause. “No.”
Marvolo’s gaze snapped to him, although his face did not move at all. “Hufflepuff, am I correct? How quaint.” He returned his gaze to Haesel, a silent command in his eyes. She would obey him.
Her magic writhed in anger but, after a moment, she looked toward Zach. “I have everything handled, and Henry is here,” she said. “I need a moment alone—or as alone as possible—with my betrothed.”
Zach sighed and, after a long considering glance at Haesel, turned and left the room. The door snicked closed behind him.
“I have never lied to you and you know me better than anyone,” Marvolo began, his voice cold and harsh, yet quiet, so that Master Henry could not overhear too much.
“You hurt me.” Haesel was stubborn to a fault.
“You hurt me,” he responded. “I did nothing but love you and declare it to the world.”
“You didn’t tell me—”
“You let him kiss you!” Marvolo picked up his wand and cast a quick silencing charm. It wouldn’t do for them to be overheard. This was a private matter, and not for public consumption.
“Marvolo, you hurt me.”
“You gave him what was mine.”
“What was yours?” she fired back, wrenching her hair from his hands. “What was yours, Lord Slytherin? I am not something to be owned.”
He grasped her wrist firmly and gently, turning her so that she was now facing him. “You called for me. You sought me out. I was content before—”
Haesel reeled back as if he had just slapped her. “Then you should have stayed wherever it is you were sent, Ambassador Riddle.” Her eyes were now so hard they were almost unrecognizable.
“I do not wish to be content!” he snapped, the admission torn from him by his riotous emotions. Then, before he knew what was happening, she was in his arms. She kissed him passionately, angrily, her hands tugging at his collar so that he was closer to her, although the back of the settee separated them.
Marvolo was only startled for a moment before he was pulling her closer, his hands buried in her luxurious hair. He pillaged her sweet lips in a harsh and possessive kiss that could leave her in no doubt of his intentions toward her.
At the sound of a clearing throat, Haesel wrenched herself away from him, but her eyes held his gaze steadily as she heaved for breath. Her rising and falling chest was a temptation he did not need, but a delight nonetheless. “Tell me it wasn’t all a lie,” she all but whimpered, vulnerability circling her.
“I never lied.”
Haesel glanced toward her brother, but Marvolo never let his gaze leave her beautiful face. The paint on her face was smudged and her lips were swollen from his harsh and demanding kiss, but she was utterly breathtaking in her disheveled state.
“If you betray me ever again—” she finally warned, her blue eyes looking into his dark ones.
“I know.” Marvolo’s hands combed through her curls, and he loved the intimacy of it. “I never want to feel that,” he admitted, the words sticking in his throat, “ever again. I love you. I think I’ve loved you from the first, back when I didn’t know your name. Is it wrong to have wished for you to love me in the same way? The way my mother loved my father? She didn’t care what he was—that he was—” Marvolo swallowed painfully and then pulled Haesel into a softer and yet still possessive kiss that was over almost as soon as it had started.
Haesel was dazed. After a long pause, she pulled fully away and walked to the other side of the room (outside the silencing charm), running her hands over her gown. “Henry, a moment.”
Henry looked at her, scandalized. “Not after that!”
“Henry!” she snapped. “I gave you the bride of your dreams earlier this evening when she was nearly out of your grasp. Repay me the same courtesy for a few minutes. I swear that I’ll stay on this side of the room and that Lord Slytherin will not move from his spot.” She glanced at Marvolo imploringly and he nodded in quiet agreement.
“Please.” It was only a whisper, and yet her magic reverberated with the plea.
Sighing, Henry stood and exited into what appeared to be another sitting room or antechamber. They were not given full privacy, but just enough.
Haesel was turned, facing the wall. “Your father?” she murmured in question, picking up the thread of their conversation.
Marvolo sighed. He could leave nothing out by omission—he realized this now. This stunning witch was his equal and she had the power to hurt him. He would never give her reason to again.
“He was a handsome Muggle,” he confessed.
Haesel turned, her face startled at the admission, her shoulders tense.
“He married my mother,” Marvolo continued quietly, “and then claimed she had bewitched him when he grew—bored of her, as he always did from what I can tell. When I was growing up in a Muggle orphanage, I used to dream he would come and take me away, but Dumbledore did instead. Then I thought I was just a Muggle-born until I learned . . . I purged his tainted blood from my veins when I was your age—after his death. I am told, however, that I still look remarkably like him, although my eyes darkened and my hair gained an auburn sheen.”
Haesel remained quiet, her face impassive, as if she had closed herself off to him completely.
“Are you disgusted with me now?” he asked her bitterly, his eyes raking over her possessively. “I will not let you go, my lady. You loved me but a moment ago, and I swear by Merlin and Morgana that I will make you love me again.” Bitterness coiled within him like a snake as he watched her.
She stood there for several endless moments, as if struggling, before sinking to her knees in exhaustion. “I have not stopped loving you, my lord,” she whispered. “Is that why our future home is magicless?” Her magic unraveled itself, reaching out to him in comfort, although she could not move away from that side of the room because of her promise to her brother.
She still loved him? She still loved him! Thank Merlin and Morgana!
“Yes,” he admitted cautiously. “Gaunt magic is putrid and—”
“Then we shall not live there. I shall not have our children know anything but love.” A shaky smile spread across her face. “You never need to hide yourself from me, Marvolo. Not anymore.”
He smiled back at her, knowing what a gift she was giving to him. Forgiveness was not easily earned, especially from a Potter. It was priceless. “I cannot bear to wait longer than Yule to make you my bride.”
She hummed softly to herself and stared up at him. “I’ve always wanted a winter wedding. July is far too overrated, I think.”
Marvolo laughed, knowing that pureblood witches often married just after their graduation. He was grateful she didn’t want the same. A year without her bound to him would be torture, plain and simple. And after that kiss she had given him, his desire to claim her was stronger than ever.
“It is decided then.”
Haesel stood up and, peering in a mirror on the wall, banished the paint from her face to leave it smooth and unmarred, her disguise now mostly gone. “Henry!” she called. At the sight of her brother, she moved back to the settee.
“Your coming of age gala will become our engagement ball if you have no objections,” Marvolo offered as he resumed brushing her hair. It was a privilege he would never take for granted.
“No, none,” she responded, relaxing further into his touch. There were several moments of silence before she uttered with a quiet whisper, “I love you, Marvolo, Lord Slytherin.”
Marvolo sighed in delight. “My Lady Slytherin.” Nothing else needed to be said. She would understand, and the hum of her magic showed that she did.
“Henry, may I tell him your news?” she inquired, turning to her brother, who was astutely looking toward them but not at them.
Master Henry took a deep breath and then nodded. “I’m soon to be betrothed to Lady Iolanthe Malfoy, Lord Slytherin.”
“May I offer my congratulations, Master Potter,” he responded formally, inclining his head. “An admirable choice.” At a slight hesitation in Haesel’s magic, belying her wariness, he added, “In private, you may have leave to call me Lord Marvolo as we are to be brothers-in-law.” It was too soon for any more familiarity.
Haesel’s magic fluttered in appreciation.
“Then, Lord Marvolo, you may address me as Henry.” The message was clear, and Marvolo inclined his head again.
The three remained in silence for several minutes. Marvolo conjured elaborate clips—that he had hidden in his bureau at Riddle Manor for future courtship gifts—that he slid into her hair to place it into a low, elegant, and comfortable twist. He had never done such for a lady or woman before. With a murmured entreaty, Haesel stood, taking his hand, and the two walked out of the room, Henry following three steps behind them.
“I should be at Malfoy Manor tomorrow afternoon to fly with Lady Rana,” Haesel informed him just before they entered the ballroom.
Marvolo led her out to wide speculation and swept her onto the dance floor. She now looked more herself, and yet no less radiant than when he had first laid eyes on her earlier that morning. “Is that an invitation, my lady?”
Haesel smiled coyly in response.
To Malfoy Manor, then, Marvolo would go. Perhaps this time he could share a mount with his lady instead of merely lifting her into the saddle. The thought warmed him, as did her loving countenance. Marvolo lost himself in her magic and her presence, realizing why his mother, if she had felt anything like this, may have given his dreadful father a love potion.
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