Of Power & Prestige – Part the Seventh

Part the Seventh

Lady Haesel sat on a velvet-upholstered stool, back facing her mahogany vanity. Her eyes were closed to slits as she felt the miniature paintbrush dance across her face. The hem of Iolanthe Malfoy’s mint green robes was all she could see. Requesting her assistance for the evening was a stroke of genius on two levels: the girl truly was talented, and, also, it would please Henry—once he returned from the professional Quidditch game he was attending with Leo and Aries, of course.

Rumors abounded in Hogwarts about which witch captivated the future Potter Lord. The odds seemed to be split between Romilda Vane, Astoria Greengrass, and Lacerta Malfoy. Haesel was the only one who knew where her brother’s true affections lay.

“Could you tilt your chin for me, please?” Iolanthe asked. Her voice was soft, like Haesel’s mother’s; it attracted attention when voiced for that very reason, the lack of loudness. She was a witch people had to listen to, if they wanted to hear her.

Haesel obeyed, fighting the urge to squirm as the brush tickled across her skin. There was a short silence, and then Iolanthe stilled. Haesel opened her eyes fully to see what was wrong, because she knew Iolanthe wasn’t done yet. “You wish to ask me something.” It wasn’t a question.

“Why me?” Against the usual customs, Iolanthe’s hair wasn’t pulled back; it hung free in silky golden curls. Haesel knew she had only left it down because they Apparated directly to her chambers and no wizards had been around to glimpse its beauty. Only a witch’s husband, parents, and children had the right to see her hair in all its glory.

Refusing to reveal her brother’s secret, Haesel debated on what to say. She wasn’t fond of deceit in any manner. In fact, she loathed all forms of it. “I wanted it to be you.”

Iolanthe bit her lower lip, another thing she would never do in public. It was a nervous tick, a fidget, and reminded Haesel of when she had been twelve and constantly picked at her nails, much to her mother’s consternation. “For Master Henry?”

Haesel sucked in a sharp breath. “Beg pardon?” Had Henry unwittingly revealed where his interest lay during one of those sword-fighting lessons he offered Iolanthe whenever Haesel went to ride the Abraxans? Impossible! Lacerta would’ve thrown a fit. It was common knowledge that she had set her cap at Henry, just as Pansy Parkinson had set hers at Heir Draco.

Light pink colored Iolanthe’s cheeks, and she stared down at the toes of her slippers. “Can you keep a secret, Lady Haesel?”

She was insulted at the implied slight to her honor, and it must’ve shown on her face when Iolanthe glanced upward, because she paled, which was quite a feat given the Malfoy complexion.

“I didn’t mean it like—” Iolanthe trembled, and then fisted her hands. “I meant to ask, may I have your word that you won’t mention what I’m about to tell you to anyone? I would never doubt the vow of a Potter. I just—if word got out before I’m bonded . . .” She shuddered and looked scared.

Haesel reached forward and placed a hand over Iolanthe’s nearest fist, uncurling the fingers gently. The half-moons on the girl’s palm were deep; she had almost drawn her own blood. “You have my word.”

“I got my first menses in February,” Iolanthe confessed, gaze fixed on her slippers once more. “And they came with a gift.” The last word was smothered in inflections, sounding more like ‘curse’ than ‘gift’. “I—” She bit her lower lip again. “I’m a Matchmaker.”

It was hard to breathe, and not because of the corset Haesel wore.

There hadn’t been a true Matchmaker since Meliflua Malfoy’s time, some two hundred years past. Iolanthe was right to be frightened; if anyone found out, the battle for her hand would be second in brutality only to Haesel’s own. As a Matchmaker she could see the bonds between people, could follow the threads of magic to determine if two individuals were compatible, and, if so, how compatible. It was a gift that ran in the Malfoy line, rarely surfacing, and brought much distinction and honor, quite like being a Metamorphmagus if one possessed Black blood.

It was a dangerous claim to make, and yet . . . “Prove it.” She had to be sure.

Iolanthe’s blue eyes focused on her, and the irises seemed to briefly slosh about like liquid. “You’re going to soul-bond,” she said. “And—” She swallowed, as if she feared her next words would upset Haesel. “Your coming of age gala serves no purpose. You’ve already chosen your lord, and he has accepted your magical claiming. The required marriage dates with other wizards will be a painful obligation as you’re forced to pretend anyone else could win your heart. The world has not seen the like of your bonding since Merlin himself proved worthy of the Lady Morgana.”

That was all-too-true. Allowing a minimum of four other wizards to have a preliminary marriage date with her was going to be torture of the worst kind. Her thoughts flittered back to what had prompted this confession. “Why did you mention my brother?” Haesel thought she knew, but, again, she had to be sure. Her brother’s heart wasn’t something to be trifled with.

Tears pooled in Iolanthe’s eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “If my parents don’t formally betroth me to someone, because I’m only the second daughter, Master Henry and I will soul-bond,” she whispered.

The blood in Haesel’s veins felt like ice. She hadn’t considered that. Sometimes the second born daughters were bartered away in betrothal contracts without ever getting a season. “Has there been talk of such?”


Haesel was impressed with Iolanthe’s fortitude. If she had been in the same situation, if her parents thought to keep her from a true soul-bond, knowingly or not, the agony would be immense. It would feel like the lowest type of betrayal, especially to a young girl who had been Sorted into Hufflepuff due to family loyalty.

“You haven’t told your parents,” stated Haesel.

“No. Father would announce it to the world. I’m not ready for that.” He would, too. Lord Malfoy couldn’t help but flaunt himself. He reminded Haesel all-too-much of the stuffy white peacocks on the Malfoy properties.

Feeling her brother’s magic approach her chambers, Haesel narrowed her eyes shrewdly. Even if Iolanthe hadn’t possessed such a wonderful magical gift, she couldn’t allow Lord and Lady Malfoy to betroth Iolanthe to someone else. It would break her brother’s heart. He must feel the potential of their bond, because he had had eyes for no one but Iolanthe since he first met her.

“If given the choice, you would have my brother?” asked Haesel.

Iolanthe nodded weakly. “I wish for no other.”

Haesel stood up and tucked a finger under Iolanthe’s chin to raise her head. She was lovely, even while crying. “If you will trust me, will believe in the Potter honor, will know I mean only for you and my brother to be happy, I will ensure he is yours, little sister.” Raw gratitude swamped the pale features before her. “Will you place yourself in my hands?”

Blonde curls bobbed as Iolanthe nodded. “I will.”

“Then welcome to the family.” Haesel hugged her tightly and then stepped backward, a smile on her face. “Wait here. And remember, you have to trust me. All right?”

“Yes, my lady.”

Haesel waved a hand dismissively. “None of that ‘my lady’ nonsense. You’re going to be my sister. You have permission to call me by my name.”

A tentative smile greeted her comment. “Thank you, Haesel.”

“Much better!” Haesel clapped her hands and then stalked out of her dressing room and through her bedchamber. She turned the knob and opened the door just as Henry had raised his hand to knock.

“Haesel.” His eyes swept her form. “I was expecting you to be ready by now. We’ve got to leave soon if you want to arrive before the masses. And seeing as you’re not supposed to be attending any balls before your own . . .” He cocked an eyebrow at her.

Haesel beckoned her brother into her room and then shut the door. “A matter of great import has been brought to my attention.”

“Oh? What’s that?” Henry asked, face pensive. “Something to do with your Marvolo?”

She ignored that teasing jab and asked, “What are your feelings for Iolanthe Malfoy?”

Henry halted, his hand hovering awkwardly in the air beside her face. “You already know them,” he rasped.

“Remind me,” she commanded. After the tearful confession her future little sister had just given, she had to be sure of her brother’s own emotions—regardless of how many times she had heard them in the past. She could secure their future, but not if one of them possessed a fickle love, despite the potential Iolanthe had seen. Potential was just that, and wasn’t always achieved.

“I would have her for my wife. Like you and your Marvolo, I want no other. I’ll happily wait until she’s of age, and then win her hand,” Henry stated. His jaw was clenched with determination, and his hazel eyes dared her to call him a liar. That was enough proof for her.

“I need you to trust me, Henry, and do everything I ask of you for the next few minutes. Will you do that?” It was a lot to ask of most people, but she knew that Henry knew she wouldn’t ask such a thing of him lightly.

“I will.”

“Then follow me.” She spun on her heel, the skirt of her gown flaring out before settling back against her legs. Haesel walked back to her dressing room, smirking when Henry gasped behind her. A glance over her shoulder showed that he had stopped at the threshold, staring helplessly at Iolanthe’s beatific, unbound curls.

“Haesel?” Iolanthe asked, voice trembling. Her cheeks had darkened to a deep pink when Henry entered the room. She edged closer to the vanity, as if she sought to hide behind it from Henry’s worshipful gaze.

“I’m so sorry, Lady Iolanthe!” Henry exclaimed. “I never would’ve dreamed of intruding on—”

Haesel grabbed his arm when he went to turn around and leave, words of apology tumbling from his lips. “Oh, no, you don’t.” She tugged him deeper into her dressing room.

“Haesel, what are you doing?” Henry asked, sounding truly scandalized with her for the first time she could remember.

“What needs to be done,” Haesel replied, chin lifted. Yes, this was all more than a mite improper, but she was acting as their chaperone, so it wasn’t horrific—in her eyes at least. Besides, it’s not like anyone else would ever find out where this happened, anyway. She wasn’t going to tell anyone, and the fierce blushes on Henry and Iolanthe’s faces ensured they would keep quiet as well.

She finally came to a halt just feet away from Iolanthe and released her brother. “Henry, hold your hands behind you,” she commanded.

“Why should I—?”

“Just do it!” She nodded in satisfaction once he clasped his hands behind his back. There, he was less threatening that way; it gave the illusion he couldn’t touch anything. Now for the hard part.

“Haesel, what’s going on?” Iolanthe whispered, eyes flitting from Henry to Haesel and then back.

“Come here, little sister.” Iolanthe moved to Haesel’s side and pressed herself against it. She set a hand on Iolanthe’s curls and tenderly feathered her fingers through them; they were tighter than her own and wonderfully silky. “I can think of only one way to guarantee your parents can’t sign a betrothal contract in your name.”

Henry inhaled deeply and swayed, as if he might faint from the shock of what he had just heard. He looked ill and pained as he stared at them.

Haesel turned Iolanthe so that they were facing each other, and then placed her forehead against the younger girl’s. Thankfully, it hadn’t been painted yet. “Will you trust in the Potter honor, little sister?”


“Then give Henry your maiden’s kiss,” she breathed.

Iolanthe was visibly flummoxed. She snuggled against Haesel’s side and turned her head to stare up at Henry. There was a flicker of doubt on her face, but that was quickly squashed. Now was her chance to prove she trusted her own Matchmaker powers and was willing to work toward a wonderful potential. Haesel could only offer the opportunity; it was Iolanthe’s leap to take.

A small step was all that separated Henry from the girls. Iolanthe closed the distance. “You will love me.” It wasn’t a question.

Henry nodded anyway. “Yes.”

Her slender hands rose in the air and hovered near his shoulders. “May I touch you?” she asked, cheeks burning.

Henry gulped. “Yes.”

Iolanthe set her hands on his shoulders for balance and leaned up on her tiptoes. Henry still had to bend down slightly to make up the difference in their heights. She closed her eyes and very gently placed her lips atop Henry’s, sealing their destiny as future husband and wife.

Haesel barely restrained a snort at the awed look on her brother’s face. He had kept his eyes open the whole time, as if he wanted to imprint each second in his memory, so that it could never be forgotten. Perhaps she would get him a Pensieve for his birthday; then he could relive and replay it to his heart’s content. Her grin widened when Iolanthe stepped backward, eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks before rising. The strain to keep from reaching for her was visible in every line of her brother’s body. The glint in his eyes had changed from covetousness to possessiveness as if he had finally earned something he had long sought.

It was, Haesel suddenly realized, similar to how Marvolo stared at her. It said, You are mine, and nothing can change that. You belong to me, love.

Now that she had seen that, she was almost desperate to see Marvolo again. That meant she needed to hurry and finish getting ready. “You can stay if you want, Henry, but please be quiet. Iolanthe will need to concentrate while she paints my face.”

He nodded dumbly and collapsed onto a nearby chair, staring worshipfully at Iolanthe, much to Haesel’s amusement.

Haesel reclaimed her seat and tilted her head just so, silently asking Iolanthe to resume her task. The paintbrush tickled across her skin moments later, swirling down her chin, before working around her eyes. It slid up her forehead in smooth strokes and gentle dots, drying as soon as the brush left her skin to collect more paint. Her costume tonight was designed with one thought in mind: to drive Marvolo wild.

For the first time in her life, she understood why her mother insisted everything be just so when she was going somewhere with her father. Haesel had styled and restyled her mother’s hair countless times, had helped her change elaborate robes, and painted her face or arranged masks. She had thought it silly pampering as a young girl, but now it all made sense.

She wanted Marvolo’s mouth to literally drop open when he saw her tonight, and nothing was going to deter her.

The sounded of Iolanthe setting down the palette jarred Haesel out of her daydream. Clever fingers worked at her hair for a few minutes, adding the final touches. Iolanthe pursed her lips, scrutinizing her from head to toe, and then proudly announced, “You’re ready.”

Haesel gracefully rose and turned to face the mirror, which had been miraculously silent this entire time. If she didn’t know better, she would say it was flabbergasted. Her reflection stared back at her, and Haesel examined herself critically, before casting one final charm to change the color of her hair.

“Perfect,” she breathed. Marvolo wouldn’t be able to keep his magic off her, and she was eagerly waiting for the day when he could hug her, or hold her hand, and dance with her without it potentially causing a blasted scandal. “Thank you, little sister.”

Iolanthe grinned and curtseyed. “It was my honor. Truly, it was.”

A choking sound escaped Henry. “Sis, I’m not sure you should be left alone tonight.”

Haesel laughed gaily. “Why, thank you, Henry. That’s a lovely compliment.”

“I’m serious. What if something happens to you?” he demanded.

“Nothing will happen to me. Besides the fact that I can protect myself, Marvolo would never let anything happen to me,” she assured him.

“And if Marvolo happens to you?” he muttered.

Haesel froze, and then glanced kindly at Iolanthe. “I’m very grateful for your help, little sister, but it’s almost time for dinner. I’m sure your mother is awaiting your return before she leaves for the ball. I’ve altered the wards for you.”

Iolanthe nodded and grasped the necklace that lay against her chest. She glanced shyly at Henry and whispered, “Until later, Master Henry.”

“Goodbye, my lady,” he breathed as she activated the Portkey and vanished from Haesel’s chambers.

“Is that what you truly think of me?” Haesel whispered with a pain-filled voice. “That I would allow anyone to . . .”

“No!” Henry fisted his hands in his hair and leapt to his feet. “No! I don’t think you would let him—I just—you’re all grown up now,” he said, suddenly looking tired. “Soon enough you’ll be living in a different manor, or castle, or wherever Marvolo makes his home. You won’t be just down the hall when I need you. You’ll be his lady more than my sister.”

“Oh, Henry.” Haesel hugged him and battled her tears victoriously. “We knew things would change.”

“But not this fast.” He kept his hands on the back of her waist, as if worried he would muss her. “I thought it would be years before anyone even remotely worthy caught your attention. You haven’t even been presented yet, and he’s already got you.”

She leaned back in his hold and clutched his face. “No matter what else changes in my life, you will always be my brother. I’ll always be here for you.” Haesel kissed his cheek, and his eyes softened as he smiled at her. “Now, I believe we have a masquerade to attend.”

“Indeed, we do.”

Right before Haesel Disapparated with Henry, she said, “By the way, you make a very dashing King Arthur. Poor Iolanthe must have had a heart attack when you came in here dressed like that.”

Henry’s laughter echoed as they landed in Smith Castle. “At least I’ll never have to worry about my queen straying.”

“I should think not!”

A loud clang sounded behind them, and Haesel spun around to see a lethal scimitar on the floor, just a foot away from Zach, who wore harem-style pants, no shirt, and a gold mask. “Aladdin?” she guessed. Aladdin was the last known wizard to have commanded the loyalty of a Djinn; it had long been one of Zach’s favorite wizarding tales.

“Merlin, Haesel”—his eyes ran over her body several times, becoming more appreciative with each glance—“you’ll cause a bloody riot.” His gaze suddenly snapped to her face as he said, “And you will be staying after the ball to explain in precise detail who, exactly, you dressed up for.” He looked hurt that she hadn’t confided in him yet, and she winced.

“Thank you. And you have my word,” she answered. She should’ve made telling Zach a priority instead of getting distracted by little things. He was her best friend and he deserved the truth. She knew all about his love, and he had long earned the same respect from her. Tonight, she would tell him about Marvolo.

“You had best get in there before everyone starts arriving if you don’t want to be mobbed,” Zach said, gesturing lazily at the ballroom. “Make it quick, will you? They will be here any minute.”

“Of course. Thank you again, Zach. I’ll see you later,” said Haesel.

“Yes, you will.”

Haesel hurried into the ballroom, somewhat dazzled by the splendor. Lord and Lady Smith had gone all out. There were thousands of floating candles in various colors, tables full of delicacies, and a live orchestra already practicing. The orchestra seemed to be standing on air, but Haesel knew it was actually a thin sheet of crystal spelled to be transparent.

There were several alcoves and other antechambers off the sides of the ballroom, curtained with flowing chiffon. She entered one partway down the ballroom, leaving Henry by the food, and smirked at her reflection. She had chosen this particular alcove because it was decent-sized and one wall was a massive, aged mirror.

The gown she wore was very old-fashioned: corseted top, and the barest scrap of lace served as sleeves to keep it up. They weren’t even two inches thick, and kissed the outside edges of her shoulders, appearing as if they would slip and fall off any minute. Her skirts fell to the floor, but there was a slit in the top layer of fabric that reached to her waist in the front. The material was ice-blue and was charmed to flicker as if it had been set alight; blue-white flames danced across it. The under layers of the gown were iridescent silver and white, and see-through in the proper lighting. Her hair was piled atop her head in snow-white curls, each pinned in place with pearls. Feathers of varying shades: white, silver, teal, ice-blue, and more had been woven into her hair.

The crowning glory, though, was Iolanthe’s painting. Painted across her face with magical paints, meaning it lived as portraits did, was an ice phoenix. Its wings were spread in flight, and its long tail-feathers kissed down her neck, periodically shifting to encircle it like a choker. Its talons curled and jerked, as if catching and killing prey. It was ferociously stunning.

Music shattered her reverie, and Haesel realized that the dancing had just begun. How long had she been lost in thought?

Then she felt it: Marvolo’s magic.

It rolled across the ballroom, warning her that he was coming. Irritation occasionally tainted it, and she could just imagine people stopping to speak with him. Oh, how that would annoy him. She had already learned how ornery he got when anyone managed to keep them apart. She had thought he would run Master Lestrange through with a sword when the man had asked her for a game of chess last time she had been at The Golden Fleece.

Closer, closer, closer, until—Haesel grinned and folded her hands before her like a proper lady. She turned to face the chiffon curtain just as his shadow fell against it. It was time for the moment of truth. Had she succeeded as well as everyone seemed to think?

Marvolo pushed aside the curtain and then halted instantly, as if petrified, allowing anyone with the correct line of sight to catch a glimpse of her. His eyes darkened rapidly, putting the night sky to shame, and she heard his breath hitch in his throat. His jaw dropped about an inch, but the compliment inherent in the action, coming from someone so controlled, made it seem like a league. His hand shook the slightest bit, sending ripples along the curtain. That must have broken his trance, because he released it and strode forward, his magic crashing toward her like a tidal wave against a rocky cliff.

He stopped before her, hands reaching forward and enclosing about her waist, his pinkies fitting against the flare of her hips. “My lady,” he purred possessively, eyes flaring with a need that made her a little nervous. Her stomach fluttered in response. His magic serenaded her, begging her to drown herself in it for the rest of time.

Haesel lifted one trembling hand and set it over his heart, allowing her magic to burn him as his drowned her. Lost in their entwining magic, she leaned up, her lips brushing against his earlobe. Her tone, throaty and husky and seductive, shocked her, but felt undeniably honest. The words were pleading for freedom, and she was pleased to grant it and acknowledge the truth. “My lord.”

* * *

Marvolo inhaled deeply, believing himself to be caught in some sweet, torturous dream as the words were whispered against his ear.  “My lord.”

“You’ve decided, then?” he questioned, nuzzling the side of her jaw, taking in her haunting scent, unable to just let her go.

He knew this was improper.  Lady Haesel was not yet out; while they were technically in public she shouldn’t be there, and he was holding her tightly while she had yet to give her maiden dance.  It was scandalous, not that anyone would ever gainsay him of all people, but his lady did not yet know that.  Still, for her to call him that . . .

“Yes,” she whispered, her voice still taut with promises of what was yet to come, promises she could not fully realize or understand in her naïveté.  “Yes, my lord.  You know I have.”

He pulled away from her slightly, his hands still resting on her small waist, so that he could look into her gorgeous, ice-blue eyes and read the truth in them that her lips and magic already proclaimed. “Haesel,” he murmured, before catching himself.  “Forgive me, my lady, I was not given leave—”

“Of course you have leave,” she murmured, her hands flexing on his biceps.  “You are my lord.” A womanly coyness now entered her voice.  “If you cannot call me by my given name, then who could possibly deserve that privilege?”  She looked up at him, her white hair holding in its elegant pile of curls that Marvolo just wanted to run his hands through, but knew for certain that he could not.

Carefully, Marvolo reached up with his right hand and traced the painted phoenix on her face with the tips of his gloved fingers.  “Your eyes,” he murmured.  “Did they serve as your guide, Haesel?”  His magic swelled around her, holding her close to him, protecting her, masking her sheer power from the large ballroom.  He’d like nothing more than to take her hand and proceed to the dance floor, but it was too soon, and he would not ruin her reputation. 

He would not harm her, even to gain her that much sooner.

Could this, a small part of his mind that he had long thought dormant asked, be what love feels like?

Yes, her magic murmured in response.  Can’t you recognize it?

Lady Haesel shifted, leaning her face farther into his touch.  “Yes.  I was attempting to decide on a disguise and found myself looking in the mirror and thinking about how fortunate I was to inherit my mum’s eyes. Dad always says they remind him of an ice phoenix.”

“Fortunate indeed,” Marvolo agreed.  “I am sorry to say that I have made the acquaintance of neither your excellent father nor your mother, as of yet.” That was something he would need to rectify, and soon.

“How can you be assured of a successful courtship if you can’t even gain a marriage date?”  Concern marred her features and her lips formed into a moue.  Oh, how Marvolo longed to lean forward and kiss it away.

“I am not without virtues, my lady.”

“Of course,” she responded, pulling out of his grasp and turning, leading him to a loveseat.  As she sat down Marvolo could see a wisp of a calf through her skirt that resembled the water-like plumage of an ice phoenix.  “I merely worry—”

Lady Haesel’s eyes were downcast. Still, her magic writhed with anxiety, with something left unsaid, and Marvolo waited for Lady Haesel—Haesel—to collect her thoughts. Taking a large breath, she continued.  “If Mum and Dad don’t know you—what if they refuse your offer of courtship?”

Marvolo sat back, taking in his lady’s beauty and carefully caressing her left shoulder, delighting in the shiver it sent through her. “I’m acquainted with your grandfather, and he knows my reputation.  It’s not something about which you need to worry, darling.” The endearment fell from his lips, unbidden, but perfectly true—just as it had been the first night he spoke it, while lying abed.

“But I can’t even ask for you by name,” Lady Haesel argued, her eyes flashing.  “I don’t know who you are.”

“You know me better than anyone,” Marvolo countered, knowing it to be true in the wizarding world at least.  He doubted that anyone could keep anything secret from the Kings and Queens of the Lone Islands.  “You know I’m named Marvolo.  Those who knew have forgotten it in favor of my title and position.”

Lady Haesel looked down at her hands, her jaw set.  “What was your father’s name?” 

Marvolo stiffened beside her at the question.  He didn’t—couldn’t—think about that.  A memory, mostly buried and nearly forgotten, arose in his mind.  His disgusting, unscrupulous, and yet handsome Muggle father was sitting beside his grandparents, playing the part of a respectable widower.  Marvolo knew, just by looking into his mind, that he was a philandering liar who had more illegitimate children than he could possibly remember.  Disgusting.

“I know what your father did was horrendous,” Lady Haesel quickly qualified.  “But—I—I don’t know your title, or your surname.  How can I ask for you if I only know your middle name?”

Marvolo looked at her cautiously before nodding. She was going to be his wife, and she had a right to now what had helped shape his life.  “Tom Marvolo Riddle.  I’m often called Tom Riddle, Jr., as my father was also named Tom Riddle.” It felt like a physical blow to utter such words, so long had he kept them secret. Yet he knew that he could trust her, that she wouldn’t judge, that she loved him, a feat he had thought impossible since before he left for the Lone Islands.

As soon as the final word left his lips, Lady Haesel’s head was resting against his shoulder and her arm was wound through his, offering physical comfort.  “Riddle,” she mused aloud.  “It’s not a wizarding name that immediately comes to mind, but it suits you.”  She lifted her magnificent face to look him in the eye.  “You are certainly a riddle.”

“Many, before, have said so.”

“And you don’t look like a ‘Tom’,” she said, her free hand reaching up and brushing his fringe across his forehead, not that it needed fixing.  “Marvolo suits you much better.”

“It’s a tradition in my mother’s family—the Gaunts—to give their children names beginning with the letter ‘M’,” he whispered.  “My mother loved my father so much that she named me after him, even after he abandoned her. I’m the only child of my generation.  My uncle and mother are both gone; so is my grandfather, but it seems like the tradition died with them.”

“Not necessarily,” Lady Haesel countered with a gentle smile. She stroked his cheek.  “I’m certain your lady wouldn’t mind following that particular tradition if it brings you comfort.  Tell me, do you live in the Gaunt residence?”

A low, sardonic laugh escaped Marvolo.  “Hardly,” he replied when she looked at him questioningly.  “I live in my father’s family’s ancestral home.”

Her nose wrinkled.  “Its family magic must not be comforting to you, then.”  It was an innocent mistake to make.  She did, after all, believe he was a pureblood.  He was a pureblood lord, after all, just not in the natural manner.

Marvolo entwined their fingers together. “It has been stripped of all magic.  I had thought that, perhaps, once I began my own family, it could be filled with comforting magic, as it should.”

“Ambitious, but I find it suitable, my lord.”  She looked at him steadily for several minutes, as if she were weighing her next words.  “If it isn’t an imposition, may I enquire as to your mother’s given name?”

“Merope,” he answered quietly, almost reverently. Even in the darkness, when the Pleiades were in the night sky, she was nowhere to be found.

“She was named for a star?” Lady Haesel inquired, clearly thinking of the Blacks.  Marvolo had seen her with Master Regulus Black, and he knew Lord Sirius Black was her godfather.  If he also remembered correctly, his lady’s grandmother was a Black.

“Unintentionally, I believe, but yes.”

A comfortable silence fell between them once again, the strains of the orchestra playing in the ballroom the only noise, and Marvolo found he could not mind.  He could imagine sitting with Haesel in just the same way fifty years from now, and the thought brought him both comfort and happiness.  Their children would be grown by then, and Haesel—

A small frown marred his features.  Haesel would no longer be on the cusp of womanhood, but a woman approaching seventy.  He would always desire her, always cherish her, and yet . . . Marvolo could not bear the thought of her growing old and dying as he remained just as he was.  No.  Something would have to be done.  She was more now than just the future mother of his heirs.  She was his.

“And your family?  You and your brother both have names beginning with ‘H’, but your father and grandfather do not,” he said, trying to force his thoughts away from their current path. She would not die.  He would not allow her to leave him.

“Indeed,” she agreed.  “Potter men are named for kings.  We women are given names that a Muggle-born would never possess, something regal, but we’re not named for queens.”

“A pity,” Marvolo answered.  “I have known queens, and their beauty holds nothing to yours.”

Lady Haesel’s eyes widened as she blushed.  “But there are no—”

Marvolo’s lips twisted into a smirk and he leaned forward, whispering into Haesel’s ear,  “There are a few who are not Muggles if one knows where to look.  Remember, I am a diplomat.”

“Yes.  But—”

“I am a riddle, am I not, my lady?”

“You are, my lord,” she answered, bemusement evident in her tone.  “To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a King of England who had a name beginning with ‘M’.”

“No,” Marvolo agreed, smiling at the line of conversation.  A sense of pride and lust welled within him to know that she had been thinking of their future children. He would ensure she greatly enjoyed making them. “There have, however, been three queens.”

“I think I prefer the name Matilda to Mary. Maude is also a name never heard amongst the Muggle-born. However, I would happily honor your mother and name our firstborn daughter Merope.” 

That was so . . . he didn’t know what to say. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Haesel shivered.  “My dad, before he met and fell in love with my mum, was infatuated with a Muggle-born.”  Her voice was quiet but held no shame.  It was simply a fact.  “Potters,” she continued, her voice at a usual volume, “are permitted to find love before they are seventeen, before marriage dates begin.  I hadn’t shown any inclination, however, and as a woman of the line, it would be customary—”

“Shh, Haesel,” Marvolo whispered, his heart clenching painfully within his chest.  “You don’t need to explain to me why you’re going through the traditions of our people.  I knew that before I met you, even though you had called to me.  I was ready to win you.”

She smiled at him playfully.  “With your sniping comments and acerbic wit?”

“Clearly it worked, didn’t it?”

“I suppose so.”   Her beautiful ice-blue eyes focused on his lips before she forced them back up to his eyes. 

“Heir Potter?” Marvolo prompted, wondering where the initial confession was going.

Haesel cleared her throat.  “The story is an amusing one.  Dad became infatuated with a Muggle-born on their first train-ride to Hogwarts.  He tried everything to win her but, despite the fact that she was being sponsored, she was hardly a lady. She said several cruel things, to the point where Potter honor could not permit Dad to even consider her, not that he cared to at that point.”  A smile graced her beautiful lips, making Marvolo want to lean down and kiss her.  “Mum was his first marriage date.  Grandmama kept it a surprise.   Supposedly, he had less than an hour to prepare.”

“Well,” Marvolo answered, smiling, “Heir Potter obviously made a good impression on Lady Isadore.”

“Yes.” Her eyes were sparkling now.  “Mum had been in love with Dad for years, but he hadn’t noticed her.  She was a year below him, but in a different House.  Mum is also—quiet outside of family circles.”

“And what happened to this Muggle-born?” Marvolo asked, leaning his forehead against his lady’s. 

“Professor Lily Snape is now the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts.  I can’t imagine you took Muggle Studies, though.”

The implication was clear.  Haesel believed that he would have been at Hogwarts while someone young enough to be his daughter was a professor.  Still, he could answer truthfully.  He found himself uneasy at the thought of disclosing exactly who he was to his lady. What if she reacted poorly?

“No, of course not,” he replied.  “I assume you do not?”

Haesel scoffed.  “No.  Professor Severus Snape is bad enough—and the two bicker in hallways.  I still can’t understand how the two ever bonded, if I’m entirely honest.  I only know, from something Mum once said, that Lady Eileen Snape sponsored Professor Lily Snape when she was at Hogwarts.  Lady Eileen was a Prince, but somehow married a Muggle.  Now her son isn’t entitled to even the title of ‘Mr.’, although they say he is brilliant at Potions as long as there aren’t students underfoot.”  Haesel sighed.  “She doesn’t like me and my brother very much.  She constantly tried to give me detention my first year, until Professor McGonagall found out.  Professor Severus Snape gives detentions to everyone who breathes, though, so I’ve had a few with him for virtually no reason.”  She looked up at him through her lashes.  “He teaches Defense now, however, and we now have a Professor Slughorn, who came out of retirement for Potions.”

Marvolo couldn’t help but smile at the name of his favorite professor when at Hogwarts.  “Old Sluggy?”

“Yes.  Do you know him?”

Marvolo couldn’t help himself.  “Naturally.  When you’re back at Hogwarts, ask him about me.”  She would know by then.  He was nearly decided.  The masquerade had gone on long enough; she was to be his bride.  She adored him—loved him, even.  She would know his full title, his age, and his utter devotion to her.

“I shall.”  A smile played on her lips.  “Now,” she began, changing the subject, “tell me why you’re dressed as a fire phoenix.”

“Only if I may steal a dance from my lady.”

“I’m not yet of age!” she objected, but Marvolo stood, holding his hand out to her.  Reluctantly, she took it.

“No one will see,” he promised.  “And even if they do, they will see a beautiful witch who has white hair dancing with me.  Lady Haesel Potter is not even in attendance.”

“Tell that to Zach,” she quipped, before stepping into his arms. 

“Trust me?” he inquired, a smirk on his face.

‘Trust you?” she queried, looking directly into his eyes.  “Never!”

His smirk widened into a smile. It was time.

“I love you,” he murmured. Then, before she could react to his sudden confession, he slithered his right hand to the small of her back. Grasping her hand, he started to dance with her, the beginning of a waltz.  She relaxed into his arms.  And then he did the unspeakable; he danced out of the antechamber, into the main ballroom, and into the center of the other twirling couples.  Whispers suddenly emerged, and Haesel blushed.


“I love you,” he whispered again, knowing the words to be true.  “And I want the damn world to know it.”

He knew he was being overly-possessive, but he was Lord Slytherin, and Potters were permitted to find love before their seventeenth year. He would not wait another week.  His reputation and position, as well as her virtue, would save them from any scandal.  Haesel was his bride, his love, his everything—and now the whole of wizarding society would know it. 

Published by excentrykemuse

Fanfiction artist and self critic.

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